Mexico might be a perfect location for playing the game, but the
country's beach soccer team are novices on the world stage and
will be making their very first appearance at the FIFA Beach Soccer
World Cup this year.
The nation's countless beaches are filled every day with avid football players showing off their skills. And yet, as strange as it may seem, the national beach soccer side has only just begun to gain a foothold on the global scene. It was only a year ago when the Tricolor were on the wrong end of a 23-3 thumping from Brazil, but the arrival of Ramon Raya on the bench has turned the Mexicans from whipping boys into genuine continental contenders.
As they prepare for their debut in the sport's biggest event, Raya's boys have their eyes on an upset or two on the sands of the Copacabana. As their ambitious squad will tell you, nothing less than a place in the second round will do as they continue their quest to become a major player on the world stage.
Hosts Mexico went into the CONCACAF qualification tournament in Acapulco with only one survivor of the side crushed by the reigning world champions. The squad overhaul did the trick as El Tri got off on the right foot with a 3-1 win over an awkward Costa Rica team.
Just a game away from reaching their objective, the home side overcome their understandable nerves to down El Salvador 6-4 and secure a place in Rio. With qualification in the bag, Mexico gave an experienced USA side a run for their money in the final, going down to a narrow 5-4 defeat, a result that underlined their rapid improvement.
Ramon Raya is no stranger to FIFA tournaments, having formed part of the Mexico side that competed at the FIFA U-17 World Cup China 1985. His hopes of going on to enjoy a successful playing career were cut short by injury, however, forcing him to retire early from the game.
After coaching a number of university teams in Mexico and covering the game both on radio and the internet, he took his first steps in beach soccer, first as a player and then, with much greater success, as a coach. His appointment to the national job proved a masterstroke as El Tri surged to qualification for the finals in Rio.
Ricardo Villalobos was the only man left standing after the catastrophe against Brazil in 2006. He hung onto his place in the team after Raya said he was the sole player to feel embarrassed about the rout. After repaying the coach's faith by bagging four goals in Acapulco and establishing himself as a key figure in the Tricolor set-up, the deadly striker is out to show he can mix it with the world's best.
What they said
"We'll just have to wait for the draw and see who we get. Then it will be a case of getting ready and setting our sights on at least a place in the next round. That would be a good start, although you are always looking to go as far as you can and to keep on making history." Ramon Raya, Mexico coach.