With the Mistral giving Marseille's Prado beach an almost autumnal temperature, the Superfinal of the European beach soccer league took a breather on Friday. Getting underway in its place was the last chance bracket event, offering a potential lifeline to teams desperate to be part of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2006 .
And as is often the case when teams from different levels meet, the big boys had things their own way…generally speaking.
In the early afternoon, Switzerland made easy meat of Belgium thanks to some clinical finishing from their striker Leu (two goals). During what was an assured victory, Angelo Schirinzi's charges scored five goals without reply. The Ukrainians were also on their mettle, securing a place in the semi-finals against more stubborn opposition in the shape of Hungary, who fought back twice before the Ukrainians greater experience eventually told. The goal that finally killed off the Hungarian resistance came in the third period courtesy of Kuzmin (3-2).
But the surprise of the day came from newly independent Montenegro, who were comfortable winners against a Greek side deprived of two key players. Although few had imagined they could perform to such a standard, the Montenegrins displayed a fairly physical style that proved devilishly effective (10-4). Despite having finished seventh in Group A of the 2006 European League, the Greeks could do nothing to prevent the unexpected success of these beach soccer upstarts.
For a time during their match with England, France must have feared that a similar humbling was on the cards at the hands of their near neighbours. Having fallen behind after only a few seconds, les Bleus found it extremely tough to get back into the match and it was only thanks to a middle period marked by numerous English fouls that the reigning world champions were able to build their precious victory (8-6). In tomorrow's semi-final with Montenegro, they will need to show the same level of commitment.
"England's early goal rocked us a bit," admitted the French captain Jean-Marc Edouard. But this time, we were able to make good use of dead ball situations, which made all the difference. We don't know anything about Montenegro and that's where the danger lies. We're going to have to be as focused as if it were a World Cup Final in order to win. Whichever way you look at it, we've got to go out there and win!!"
* Results - Last chance bracket*
Belgium 1 Switzerland 5
Ukraine 3 Hungary 2
Montenegro 10 Greece 4
France 8 England 6
Day's programme - Saturday 26 August
Superfinal - Semi-finals
Spain - Italy (15:15)
Portugal - Poland (16:30)
Last chance bracket - Semi-finals
Ukraine - Switzerland (17:45)
France - Montenegro (19:00)
*The winner of this last chance bracket tournament will qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006.