Marseille: the final hurdle
Never in the history of European beach soccer has a Superfinal looked so open. Starting on Tuesday, the continent's top teams will be facing off on Marseille's famous Prado Beach to decide who gets the last five places at the 2007 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. The draw for the elite tournament will take place on Sunday 26 August, at the end of the Superfinal.
After four very tightly contested tournaments, won by three different teams (Russia at San Benedetto del Tronto and Tignes, Portugal at Portimao and France in Mallorca), and with absolutely everything still to play for, the showdown between the six best teams of the season should be a wonderful spectacle.
To earn one of the five tickets to the Copacabana in November, the teams must either reach the semi-finals in Marseille, or win the Last Chance Bracket, which this year is open to a record number of teams (nine plus Poland and the Czech Republic, the two last-placed teams in the EBSL 2007 rankings). In other words, each and every match is make or break.
After an astonishing first season among the elite, the Russians look like favourites to win Group A, but then again who could forget their calamitous seventh-place finish in the last tournament in Mallorca. Switzerland, by contrast, have been impressively consistent throughout, with not a single finish outside the top five. The group's outsiders are Spain, whose young team will be looking to continue the form they showed at the last two tournaments, which produced a third-place finish in Tignes and a fourth in Mallorca.
With much expected of them following an imperious season which has seen them lose just three times in 12 tournaments, Eric Cantona's Bleus have only one objective in mind: to become European champions. However, they face a tough task in Group B if they are to overcome a Portugal team which may be getting on in years but is still brimming with talent. Meanwhile, after their unfortunate encounter with the French in the final in Mallorca 15 days ago, Italy will be hoping that their defensive style can this time triumph over the flair of their two group rivals.
This year, the Last Chance Bracket, which provides teams with a final opportunity to book a ticket to Rio, will be even more exciting than usual. After two days of round-robin matches, the last team in each of the two Superfinal groups will go into the quarter-final stage of the Last Chance Bracket, along with Poland, who are veterans of the 2006 finals in Rio, the Czech Republic, and the likes of Ukraine, England, Israel or Hungary, all of whom continue to make good progress. All things considered, predicting the outcome is an impossible task.
EuroBeachSoccer League 2007
Superfinal Marseille (France)
Friday 24 August
Last Chance Bracket - quarter-finals
Saturday 25 August (starts 15.00h CET)
Last Chance Bracket - semi-finals
Superfinal - semi-finals (starts 17.30h CET)
Sunday 26 August (starts 15.00h CET)
Superfinal - 3rd place match
Last Chance Bracket - Final
Superfinal - Final (17.30h CET)