THE DAY REPLAYED – Saturday at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 saw Italy and Switzerland confirm their status as favourites in Group B by recording respective wins over Oman and Costa Rica to become the first two teams to advance to the last eight. In Group A, meanwhile, there is still all to play for, with all four sides level on three points ahead of the final round of games.
Day three of the competition kicked off with Italy defeating Oman 4-2, a game that was followed by the shock of the afternoon, as Portugal, urged on by a capacity crowd of 3,500, went down to Senegal in an 11-goal thriller. Beaten in their opening game, the Africans showed huge spirit in coming from behind on no fewer than four occasions to prevail 6-5.
The situation in Group A then became even more complex as Japan bounced back from defeat to the hosts in their first match to beat Argentina 4-3. Portugal top the pool on goal difference, but with only two goals separating them and the bottom-placed Japanese. Everything will be decided in the final two games on Monday, when the hosts take on Argentina and the Samurai Blue face Senegal.
The excitement continued in the day’s final game, with Switzerland needing a late goal to see off to Costa Rica, a victory they celebrated loudly with their sizeable contingent of fans.
Senegal 6-5 Portugal
Japan 4-3 Argentina
Oman 2-4 Italy
Costa Rica 3-4 Switzerland
Memorable moments *Home fans root for the underdogs *
Making their second appearance at the beach soccer world finals, Oman are still looking for their first win. It is not for lack of support, however. The Asian champions had the 3,500 crowd at the Praia da Baia cheering them on at Saturday’s game against Italy, though it was not quite enough to help them secure that elusive victory. Even so, the Omanis appreciated the backing they got from the home fans. “It was amazing to hear the crowd shouting ‘Oman, Oman’,” said the Asian side’s skipper Hani al Dhabat. “We did everything we could to win the game, both for ourselves and for them.”
*Ozu a hit in Portugal *
Brazilian-born Ozu Moreira is one of the stars of the Japan side and an obvious choice as their captain. He is also an idol with the fans, some of whom pitched up at Saturday’s game with a giant banner bearing the words “Samurai: Let’s go Japan” and a picture of the defender. “We are all samurais and we never give up,” said the man regarded by many as the best defender at the tournament. “This is the fourth time I’ve been to Portugal and they seem to like me here. I feel right at home.”
Stankovic shows his class
Beach soccer is synonymous with great goals. Bicycle and scissor kicks are commonplace, as are first-time volleys and the like, though it is not often you see the kind of free-kick Dejan Stankovic converted to put the Swiss ahead against Costa Rica. After lining up a free-kick wide on the right, the striker opted for finesse instead of power and feathered a delightful chip over the head of Vladimir Adanis in the Tico goal.
He saves and scores
Los Ticos have not had much to smile about since arriving in Espinho, though Adanis did give them something to cheer on Saturday when he became the first keeper to score at Portugal 2015, thrashing home a spectacular volley to bring his side momentarily back into contention against Switzerland.
The stat 17 - the number of times European and African teams have played each other at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Senegal’s victory over Portugal has made things more even between the two continents, with UEFA’s representatives winning ten of those games and CAF teams the remaining seven.
“I’m delighted to have scored my first World Cup goal, especially as my parents were in the stands. I’m sure they were very proud,” Italy winger Simone Marinai.
“This is my first World Cup and everything is amazing. I love the spirit of fair play between the coaches and the players and among the fans too. It feels incredible to be playing beach soccer in front of such a large crowd,” Senegal winger Pape Kamara.
“We’re very disappointed, of course we are. We fought until the very last second and we would like to apologise to all the fans who came and filled the stadium. They deserved to see us win. I think we lacked a little bit of focus and sharpness in the last period, and now we’ve got to go and beat Argentina,”* *Portugal winger Jordan.
“I’m very satisfied with the win. We play each game as if it were the last, as if it were the most important one of our lives. We need to go away now and prepare to face Senegal and keep pushing on towards the quarter-finals,” Japan pivot Takasuke Goto.
“Costa Rica are brilliant. They never give up. We scored three goals but they kept on battling and got back into the game. They run a lot and they’re physically very strong,” Switzerland pivot Dejan Stankovic.
Next matchday, 12 July