Ukraine enter the third FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup aiming for a breakthrough showing, with just one quarter-final appearance way back at the inaugural tournament in 2005 as evidence of the potential.
A strong showing in qualifying and a consistent build-up left Ukraine well placed for success heading into Tahiti 2013. However, a somewhat unlucky 5-4 opening defeat against Senegal suddenly has left the Europeans’ tournament ambitions balanced on a precipice after the opening day.
High hopes and thorough preparations
Ukraine were one of the first teams to arrive in Tahiti in order to assist with their acclimatisation for what is a hugely contrasting environment to that they are familiar with. The Europeans prepared well for their tilt at FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup glory, and the players are match hardened after appearing in their own national beach soccer championship while a handful competed in the Russian equivalent.
The team are together on a regular basis and all bar one player in the squad originates from the same location; the famed football city of Kiev. Key player Andriy Yevdokymov told FIFA.com the team wish to repay the support they have enjoyed, with a strong showing on French Polynesia’s golden sands.
“We always try hard to make a good impression, because we get a lot of support from home,” said Yevdokymov who like all in the squad commenced his football odyssey in traditional fashion playing 11-a-side, before moving to the sand-based equivalent nearly ten years ago at the age of 21.
“We have good conditions for four or five months of the year. It is not like it is in Russia where it is colder. In Ukraine we can play beach soccer from May to September, and beach soccer in Ukraine is developing fast.
“This is a different World Cup because of the environment. This means it is new emotions and experiences, but it is good to have the Beach Soccer World Cup in new frontiers.”
All four contests on the opening day were tight affairs and indicate the race for the crown is up for grabs. It is a view that Yevdokymov shares. “The World Cup is really open I am sure,” he said. “Not only Brazil and Russia [are capable of winning], there are about ten teams ready to be at the top.”
Focus remains despite reset goals
Drawn into Group C alongside four-time sand kings Brazil, Iran and Senegal, a difficult task was made even more challenging with their defeat against the Africans on the opening day. The game was on a knife-edge throughout with the pedigreed Senegal making the most of their opportunities against the well-organised Ukrainians.
Ukraine’s strong showing in defeat made little difference to Yevdokymov post-match when asked what they could do better for the remaining two group matches. “Win,” was the one-word unequivocal reply delivered with a steely gaze that spoke of both determination and disappointment. “We started very well but they [Senegal] had a very good team spirit and we made some mistakes,” said Yevdokymov. “We have lost tonight because we made such stupid mistakes, it is very difficult after that. So, we have to move forward and win the next game.”