France peaking at the right time
They would probably have preferred to taste victory last week in front of their home crowd, when they lost 5-4 to Russia in Tignes, but Les Bleus, under the guidance of Eric Cantona, certainly enjoyed their success on Sunday night when they lifted the trophy from the Majorcan leg of the Euro Beach Soccer League 2007. They saved their best until last in the tournament, beating Italy 7-5 in the final.
"That was definitely our best performance since the 2006
World Cup", said defender Stephane François. "We'd
lost two finals - in Tarragona at the Euro Beach Soccer Cup (3-0 to
Ukraine) and then the one last week - so we really needed this
trophy. Winning it just before the Superfinal in Marseilles was
vital for our confidence. We showed that we're up there with
the best and now our aim is to become European champions."
The final was a master class in defensive solidity and opportunism in front of goal. The 2005 world champions France had already impressed the crowds with their 7-4 win over Switzerland in the quarter-final, before overwhelming Portugal 6-0 in the semis - the first time that Madjer and his cohorts had been kept off the scoresheet this season.
Finalists Italy made sure of their qualification for Marseilles with their win over Poland in the last eight, playing solid football and riding their luck in a 4-2 win. As a result, the Poles, who finished third in last year's European championship and thus qualified for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2007, will have to go through the playoffs if they are to earn their place on the Copacabana sands in November.
Stankovic leads Swiss charge
Spain are the current Superfinal champions but their squad has undergone a shake-up this season. They had no difficulty in securing their Superfinal berth though, strolling past Czech Republic 5-2 on Friday. They have a battling young team and will be looking to finish in the top four in Marseilles and progress to Rio.
"Qualifying for Marseilles was obviously our primary objective and I'm glad that my players managed that," said Spain coach Joaquin Alonso, "but what pleased me the most was the progress we have made throughout the four stages. I'm sure that we're going to carry on improving and are capable of even better things."
Switzerland were as consistent as ever, finishing in an impressive fifth place. After wins over Russia and Poland, 5-4 and 6-5 respectively, their star striker Dejan Stankovic finished the weekend as the competition's leading marksman to leave the Swiss confident of earning a berth at Rio de Janeiro 2007. Surprise package Russia will also have their sights on a trip to Brazil after finishing first in the overall standings this year, in spite of a disappointing seventh place in Majorca.
Euro Beach Soccer League 2007
Spanish event, Majorca
Friday, 3 August
France 7-4 Switzerland
Portugal 6-4 Russia a.e.t.
Italy 4-2 Poland
Spain 5-2 Czech Republic
Saturday, 4 August
Switzerland 5-4 Russia
Poland 6-4 Czech Republic
France 6-0 Portugal (semi-final)
Spain 4-6 Italy (semi-final)
Sunday, 5 August
Russia 6-3 Czech Republic (seventh place playoff)
Switzerland 6-5 Poland (fifth place playoff)
Spain 3-5 Portugal (third place playoff)
France 7-5 Italy (final)
Best player - Jeremy Basquaise (France)
Best goalkeeper - Jean-Marie Aubry (France)
Top scorer - Dejan Stankovic (Switzerland), 8 goals
FIFA Fair Play award - Czech Republic
1 -. Russia, 31 points
2 -. France, 30 pts
3 -. Portugal, 29 pts
4 -. Switzerland, 24 pts
5 -. Italy, 20 pts
6 -. Spain, 19 pts
7 -. Poland, 16 pts
8 -. Czech Republic, 7 pts
The top six countries in the overall standings of the EBSL 2007 qualified for the Superfinal in Marseilles from 21 to 26 August, where four qualifying slots for Rio de Janeiro 2007 will be up for grabs. Seventh and eighth in the above standings will take part in a playoff tournament, also held in Marseille, along with any other teams who wish to play. The winner of this competition will also qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup later this year.