Holders braced for Russian threat
Sunday’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup final involves an intriguing clash of styles, with Russia pitting their tactical discipline against the flair and flamboyance of reigning world champions Brazil.
Russia-Brazil, Stadio del Mare, Ravenna, 11 September 2011, 18:30 (local time)
“A game of chess” is how some fans are describing Sunday’s final at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011 between Russia and Brazil, two high-quality teams with markedly different approaches to the game.
Solid and unrelenting, the Russians have no stars in their ranks and work as a unit, even making block substitutions in a bid to keep their shape. Strong at the back, Mikhael Likhachev’s side are deadly from set-pieces anywhere on the pitch, a major factor in their largely untroubled run to their first final.
In contrast, the Brazilians are appearing in their fifth straight showpiece match, having won the previous four. Well organised themselves, with an exceptional goalkeeper in Mao, A Seleção’s biggest asset is the individual skill they possess. No other side in world of beach soccer boasts the glittering array of talent that Alexandre Soares can call on, with gifted performers occupying every position, making up the most potent formation in the discipline.
The road to the final
Russia have been a model of consistency at Ravenna/Italy 2011. Short on fantasy and high on organisation, the Euro Beach Soccer League champions have been in relentless form over the last few days and are the only side to have won all their games in normal time. In the group phase they downed Nigeria 8-4, Tahiti 5-0 and Venezuela 7-3, before going on to beat Mexico 5-3 in the quarter-finals and CONCACAF sensations El Salvador 7-3 in Saturday’s semi-final.
By their impeccably high standards, opponents Brazil have been unimpressive en route to to their fifth consecutive final, scoring only 11 goals in the group phase. Held to a 3-3 draw by Ukraine in their opening match, they needed penalties to secure the points, going on to dispose of Mexico 5-2 and then scrape a 3-2 win over Japan. Their nerve was tested again in the quarter-finals, where Nigeria launched a late comeback only to go down 10-8 in extra-time. And in their habitual meeting with Portugal in the semis, Alexandre Soares’ team also had to dig deep, coming from behind once again before running out 4-1 winners.
42 - The age of Brazil captain Benjamin, who, for the second FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup final running, will be the oldest player on show. The Seleção skipper was 40 years and five months old when his side took the honours at Dubai 2009, and celebrated his 42nd birthday three months ago, which also makes him the oldest player on duty at Ravenna/Italy 2011.
“We’ve come on a lot both physically and technically in the last few years, but this is our first final, so we don’t exactly know what to expect. Beach soccer is one of the most unpredictable sports there is, and all I know is that we’re going to give it our best shot in what is undoubtedly the toughest game we have faced yet,” Russia captain Ilya Leonov.
“They’re a tactical and tremendously disciplined team who also have a lot of power up front. The good thing for us is that they like to attack and not defend, like Ukraine did. I think it’s going to be an exceptional game and quite possibly the best final of all time,” Brazil coach Alexandre Soares.