From 22-26 January, the Qatari capital Doha will host the AFC qualifiers for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013, as teams look to secure one of the region’s three places for the showpiece event this September.
This edition of the AFC Beach Soccer Championship will see a record participation of 16 teams, further illustrating the increasing popularity of beach soccer across the region. A host of challengers, some new to the event and others looking to improve on past performances, will be aiming to usurp continental heavyweights like Japan, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman on the road to Tahiti 2013.
In the build-up to the big event in Doha, FIFA.com takes a closer look at the participating teams and assesses their chances of appearing on the world stage this September.
Japan have competed at every FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup since it was first held in 2005, when they finished fourth in what remains the best ever placing by an Asian side.
Given their immense experience at international level, coach Rui Ramos’ team are widely expected to fill one of the region’s berths at Tahiti 2013. The same could be said of Iran, who themselves have featured four times at the finals, although they could well face competition from a UAE outfit coached by Brazilian Marcelo Mendes. Also expected to figure prominently in Doha are Oman, who surprised many by qualifying for the last edition in Ravenna, Italy, two years ago.
Also in contention
While those who have frequently graced the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup are considered favourites to do so again, other nations such as Bahrain, Thailand, Lebanon and hosts Qatar have what it takes to push them all the way. Indeed Bahrain have participated twice before at beach soccer’s flagship event and, with Brazilian Gustavo Zlokovicz now at the helm, will be keen for a third appearance in Tahiti.
That said, they face a tough task in Group 2, where they have been drawn with Japan and Thailand, who, like the Samurai Blue, appeared at the maiden FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2005. Another side with lofty ambitions are Lebanon, who underlined their impressive progress with stunning wins over Portugal and Argentina at last December’s Copa Lagos.
Qatar, for their part, will be hoping home support can help them qualify for the global event for the first time. The hosts have put their faith in experienced Brazilian coach Nenem, who knows just what it takes, having starred on home soil for A Seleção at Rio de Janeiro 2005.
As they begin their quest to reach Tahiti 2013, China PR will certainly not be lacking in experience, having competed in every edition of the Asian Beach Soccer Championship to date. Indeed with two fourth place finishes to their name, they could well spring a surprise of two in Qatar.
Uzbekistan, for their part, will be out to improve on their performance from two years ago, when they crashed out in the quarter-finals to Iran, while Australia, who did not compete in the previous qualifying event, will be aiming to impress despite being drawn in a tough section alongside Qatar, Oman and Afghanistan.
After participating at the previous edition in Oman two years ago, Syria, Kuwait and Indonesia all miss out this year, leaving the door open for Afghanistan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia to gain valuable experience in what will be their maiden appearances at the Asian Beach Soccer Championship.
What they said
"We came here to qualify for the World Cup, which we’ll do if we take one of the top-three spots. First we’ll be focusing on reaching the semi-finals and, if we manage that, then we’ll battle it out for a World Cup ticket," UAE coach Marcelo Mendes.
6 - The number of teams to have represented Asia at the six previous FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups: Japan, Thailand, Bahrain, Iran, United Arab Emirates and Oman. Could there be a new name on that list come September?