The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 ended on Sunday in the happiest of ways for the thousands of home fans who packed into the Estadio da Praia da Baia over the course of the ten-day tournament.
They had come to cheer on Portugal and were rewarded when the hosts won their first senior FIFA world title, rich reward for a golden generation of players who have waited a long time to top the podium. They had been waiting since 15 May 2005, to be exact, the day of the final at the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, a game the Portuguese were expected to win after having beaten hosts Brazil in the semis.
That side reckoned without France, their opponents on that day, who made the title theirs. Disappointed as they were, the Portuguese vowed that their time would come, and so it did, on home sand ten years later.
The denouement of Portugal 2015 could hardly have been scripted better, with the hosts taking on the most-improved side of the last few years; Tahiti. Building on the fourth place they achieved in hosting the tournament two years ago, the Tiki Toa took another big step forward in Espinho, but could not prevent Portugal from finally claiming the biggest prize in beach soccer with a 5-3 win.
“If someone had said to me three years ago that I was going be a beach soccer world champion at home, I’d have probably said they were crazy,” commented Portugal coach Mario Narciso, reacting to his side’s long-awaited triumph. “But they weren’t. We are the world champions.”
Regarded as one of the powerhouses of the sport for many years, the Portuguese finally proved the point in front of their own fans.
Narciso’s side began the competition with two wins and a shock defeat to Senegal in the group phase, advancing to the last eight as Group A winners and then knocking out the combative Swiss to check into the last four. Waiting for them there were none other than two-time reigning world champions Russia. Portugal did not flinch, however, powering to a 4-2 victory, with the Russians eventually having to settle for bronze after defeating Italy in the match for third place.
That semi-final loss was Russia’s second reverse of the tournament, the first having come against the Tahitians in the final round of group matches. The OFC side kept on winning in the knockout phase, disposing of Iran in the quarters and then edging the Italians in a semi-final shoot-out.
Though the men from Oceania failed to make the world title theirs, they were rewarded for the quality of their football with two individual awards, with Heimanu Taiarui picking up the adidas Golden Ball and goalkeeper Jonathan Torohia collecting the adidas Golden Glove.
The other stars
Widely seen as one of the greatest beach soccer players of all time, Portugal captain Madjer had the honour of lifting the trophy and of taking receipt of the adidas Bronze Ball, while team-mate Alan made off with the adidas Silver Ball, yet another richly deserved accolade for the 40-year-old.
Among the other players to star on the sand in Espinho was Paraguay’s Pedro Moran, who made the most of his side’s three group matches, scoring two hat-tricks and a brace to win the adidas Golden Scorer. His tally of eight goals was matched by Madjer and Switzerland’s Noel Ott, and though the Portuguese and Moran were also level on one assist apiece, it was the Paraguayan who took the award on account of having played fewer minutes.
Portugal 2015 will also be remembered for Brazil’s failure to progress to the semi-finals for the first time in their history, their tournament ending against the Russians in the last eight. Some consolation came A Canarinha’s way in the shape of the FIFA Fair Play Award.
The ten-day competition attracted an overall attendance of 96,300, with the capacity crowds at the Estadio da Baia playing a big part in the success of the competition. Now that Portugal 2015 has come to an end, the countdown to Bahamas 2017 has begun. See you there.
adidas Golden Ball: Heimanu Taiarui (Tahiti)
adidas Silver Ball: Alan (Portugal)
adidas Bronze Ball: Madjer (Portugal)
adidas Golden Scorer: Pedro Moran (Paraguay)
adidas Silver Scorer: Madjer (Portugal)
adidas Bronze Scorer: Noel Ott (Switzerland)
adidas Golden Glove: Jonathan Torohia (Tahiti)
Fair Play Award: Brazil
16. Costa Rica