'First class’ is how the players at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013 described the Technical Study Group FIFA assigned to the tournament. It is easy to see why, as it comprises Frenchman Henri Emile (70 years old), a member of France’s beach soccer backroom staff between 2006 and 2008 and a FIFA instructor ever since; Ramon Raya (45), coach of Mexico’s beach soccer side, runner-up at the 2007 tournament and also a FIFA instructor; and the Portuguese Madjer (36), runner-up in 2005, the competition’s record goalscorer and still an active player.
FIFA.com spoke to the trio to find out their opinions on the events in Tahiti, as well as how they view the future of the sport.
FIFA.com: You have all been involved in the game since the first editions of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. How much has it changed since then?
Madjer: A lot. Beach soccer used to be more spectacular but the countries that took up the game more recently put more emphasis on tactics and the physical aspects of it in order to be able to compete with the more technically-gifted teams. There’s more marking, less space, fewer luxuries…
Raya: As a spectacle the game has changed because some teams couldn’t produce such breathtaking moves and in order to compete we had to improve physically. Nowadays everyone has a tactical system, they know all about the opponents, know where their weak spots are and how to defend themselves.
Emile: For me the biggest difference is that the teams have greater quality in their squads and are better prepared for the latter stages of the tournament. Every continent is trying to develop beach soccer and they’re becoming more competitive.
What are your views on the increasing use of tactics?
Raya: As I said before, it was the next logical step to level the playing field against the strongest teams, although even Portugal and Brazil have also improved in this regard. For instance, Brazil never used to use the goalkeeper but they do now. Another example is Russia, who implement things from futsal that are difficult to do on sand but their players’ technique allows them to do it.
Emile: I’ve noticed progress in some of the basic functions. A team’s organisation varies over the course of the game and the players fulfil specific roles until the end of a move, whether it be attacking or defending. The attacker, for example, no longer just stays up front but also has defensive duties.
This tournament has marked Spain’s return among the world’s elite, even without their beach soccer icon Amarelle. What do you make of that?
Madjer: The work they’ve done with the new players in the team, many of whom had never played at a World Cup before, has been clear to see. The important thing here is that other coaches see how it’s done: they started working with a group of players without focusing on qualifying for a World Cup. Good results and belief come later.
Raya: The footballing boom in Spain has spilled over into beach soccer and you can see players who combine speed, intelligence and superb technique, which are qualities more usually associated with futsal in Spain than beach soccer. They’ve shown you can be a team without depending on just one or two individuals.
What about Tahiti’s performances? Tournament hosts tend to ride a wave of euphoria, but they seem to have gone beyond that…
Emile: They’ve been the surprise of the tournament. They’re a well-organised team made up of players without any complexes and they attack constantly.
Raya: Even in Ravenna their excellent physical strength and ability to play with the ball in the air stood out, but they lacked tactical discipline and the knowledge of how to counteract some of their opponents’ moves. Now they have a coach [the Swiss Angelo Schirinzi] who was a World Cup runner-up and who knows a lot about tactics. He combined the best of both and now we’re seeing the results.
Finally, do you think technique will ever make a comeback as the most important aspect of this sport?
Emile: The development of beach soccer in African countries, for example, has led to a greater physical component to the game. However, those players will need better technique if they don’t just want to rely on their physique. The side that puts a player’s technical ability at the service of the team will always be the strongest.
Madjer: I think technique will always be decisive. It will take a while before we see lots of spectacular matches like we did before, but the future is promising.
Raya: When everyone has understood the tactics, physique and the type of player you need on sand, teams and players with better technique will once again have an advantage. It’s great that beach soccer is more competitive now because that encourages the countries that used to lose a lot to keep going. When everyone is working hard, the result is better beach soccer.