For a team that ha taken part in only a handful of tournaments two years before, 2007 was as tremendous as a breakthrough season can get for the Russians. Nikolay Pisarev's side jumped from being barely known to an authentic powerhouse.
The combination of a fabulous goalkeeper in Andriy Bukhlitskiy and a pair of deadly strikers in Ilya Leonov and Egor Shaykov - who combined for 41 goals in 16 Euro Beach Soccer League 2007 matches - has lifted them to the position of facing-off regularly with the likes of France and Portugal.
All that poise and confidence will indeed be quite necessary in Rio de Janeiro, considering that they share Group A with no less than world-beaters Brazil, the Solomon Islands and Mexico. If the Russians pick up right where they left off in the continental competition, they are bound to be one of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup dark horses.
The steadiness shown by the Russians in the first three Euro Beach Soccer League events - when they reached two titles (Italy and France) and one final (Portugal) - was kept all the way until the Superfinal in Marseilles, where they were on the losing end of a fantastic thriller against France in the semi finals - a penalty kick shootout loss following a 3-3 draw.
With an avenging 6-3 victory over Spain - who had defeated them in another shootout thriller in the group stage - Russia finished third in their first season in the elite and clearly deserved one of the European berths in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2007.
A 15-year career as a journeyman striker taught a lot to Nikolay Pisarev, 38, who had successful stints all over Europe, from his hometown's Spartak Moscow to FC Winterthur (SUI), St. Pauli (GER) and Mérida (ESP). He joined the beach soccer world to kick-off his coaching career and gathered loads of talent to put Russia in the beach soccer map.
Andriy Bukhlitskiy was an attraction since day one of the European season, be it for his unbelievable diving saves or for the whole pre-free kick ritual that includes shaking, hopping and slapping his own face. The 25 year old is an authentic follower of Lev Yashin's legacy as a difference-maker from the keeper position, having been voted the best net minder in three of the four Euro Beach Soccer League 2007 events (Italy, Portugal and France) and unanimously considered the best goalkeeper of the season.
This will be the Russians' first experience in the global showpiece, but that does not seem to mean too much, as their debut season in Europe's elite clearly demonstrates.
What they said...
"It was a surprise for us. I knew we had a lot of potential, but we lacked international experience. Every step we took throughout this season, we tried to keep ourselves together and to make sure we realized that there is still a lot to learn. This is the way we should face the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup too: as another great experience in our path towards becoming a great beach soccer nation." - Nikolay Pisarev, head coach RUS.