Rio ready for a sun-kissed tournament
With just three days to go before the start of the first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, the atmosphere is building on Rio's famous Copacabana beach. With temperatures of 28 degrees being registered by 10am the conditions are ideal for five-a-side on the sand.
Before the tournament proper can start there is the small matter of the last qualifier to be decided. Austria, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland will play off on Friday and Saturday to whet the appetite of the crowds who have descended on Brazil's renowned sunspot merely to watch the players train.
Thursday saw the Italians and the Portuguese stretching their legs on the sand after arriving at the participating teams' hotel following eleven-hour flights. Brief warms-ups were followed by a gentle practice match and then a series of penalty shoot-outs. There is good reason for the last leg of the training session. Every game at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup will see a winner - any game finishing level after extra time will go to penalties.
With Sugar Loaf mountain providing an awesome backdrop to stadium, Rio is certainly a perfect setting for the tournament. The joggers are out at 6am using the huge expanse of beach and the number of football posts embedded in the sand beggars belief. It's no wonder the Brazilians are favourites for this title - the evidence of passion for the game is all around us.
The magnificent stadium is just yards from the crashing Atlantic Ocean. The waves glimmer an azure glow which must make the Italians feel at home, but unlike the beaches of Rimini there are very few swimmers here. The waves are just too big, the rip-tide too strong. Swimming is for further up the coastline. There is no shortage on sun-worshippers though. Tanned and toned, they crowd near the water's edge and it must be a rare experience for the Italian and Portuguese players to perhaps feel a little pale and thin as they train close by.
Uruguay will become the final team to arrive tonight and elsewhere finishing touches are being applied to the stands in the 10,000-capacity stadium - although often the workmen have a short break to take in whatever arresting sight is passing along the famous walkway.
The people, the setting, the stadium - all will help provide the perfect stage for beach soccer fans to witness the finest players on the planet.