England happy to learn from the best
England's beach soccer team may still be struggling to reach the same level they have on grass, but they are certainly doing what it takes to move a few steps forward: to play against the best. The squad that finished seventh in Group B of this year's Euro Beach Soccer League is heading to Durban, in South Africa this week, where they will play in their third Pro Beach Soccer Tour event of the year, alongside recently crowned FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup champions Brazil , previous world champions France and the hosts South Africa. Despite the large gap between the quality of these teams and England, they believe that it is helping, rather than hindering their progress.
"No matter what the outcome is, it is always a big lesson, said England's head coach John Hawkins. "Playing against the best teams in the world has been amazing for us and I honestly feel we're improving as a team because of it. Being able to speak to the players and managers of such great beach soccer nations has focused our thoughts and tactics and as I think we proved at the end of last season we are now a much better team than we were at the beginning of 2006. From what we have learnt in the 2006 season I feel we will be able to truly compete on the international stage next year and for it not to be such a shock when we win."
While they were still battling against their EBSL Group B counterparts, England hosted a Pro Beach Soccer Tour event in Birmingham that led them to stand side-by-side against FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2005 finalists France and Portugal. England looked good, with a victory over the Netherlands (7-5) and close calls against Portugal (4-7) and France (5-6). In August, when they were supposed to stay training at home, John Hawkins' lads headed to Portimao, Portugal, to play in the Mundialito. That was a brutal way to be in contact with beach soccer from overseas, as they suffered comprehensive defeats to Brazil (2-9) and Argentina (1-6) before eventually falling to FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2005 semi-finalists Japan (5-9). A disappointment? Not really.
"Brazil really taught us a lesson in Portugal. They were too fast, too strong and too clever for us - we played our hearts out and still lost 9-2 and to be honest, we were happy with the two goals," joked Hawkins. "As regards France, we have the utmost respect for them and the way they play the game, not only do they have the skill, they have the temperament to turn it on when it matters. Besides the Birmingham clash, we lost 6-8 in the Last Chance Bracket in Marseilles. I'd like to think that we gave them a real go and that were not a million miles behind them. I think we can give any beach soccer nation a game, and if we do our best and have a little luck, why not a win or two? Let's not kid ourselves, both these two teams deserve to be called 'great', but we want to achieve greatness too and we will start winning sooner rather than later."