It says a lot about the rising standards of European beach soccer that Italy could be found toiling away in the Last Chance Bracket this season. Fourth in last year's European championship, the Azzurri simply encountered more obstacles than they bargained for this time around, but when it mattered they were able to make their experience count. Facing Switzerland in the final, the Italians held their nerve to claim the continent's last remaining ticket to the Copacabana beach and the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2007.
"What gave me pride above anything else was watching my players raise their game when they needed to the most," Italy coach Giancarlo Magrini told FIFA.com after his team's 8-5 victory. "Right up until the last leg (of the Euro Beach Soccer League 2007), nobody thought we were capable of qualifying for Rio. Now we're ready to take on anyone and we'll contest the World Cup with clear heads."
Still in shock after the untimely death of their doctor, Magrini's men have to be commended for the determined manner in which they began the encounter. They took the lead in the opening seconds, in fact, Roberto Pasquali giving them the perfect start. And if that was not bad enough for their opponents, the searing heat began to wreak havoc with Switzerland's reduced squad of just seven players.
The central Europeans refused to let their heads drop, though, and with 20 seconds to go in the first period they drew level, Mo meeting Stephan Meier's corner with a far-post header to make it 1-1. That signalled a very balanced passage of play, with Switzerland's Dejan Stankovic answering Paolo Palmacci's strike for Italy to leave the scores tied heading into the last 12 minutes.
As things stood, both teams still harboured very real dreams of
joining France, Spain, Portugal and Russia in Rio this November,
but as so often happens in beach soccer fitness played a major role
down the final stretch. Pasquali added three more goals,
Massimiliano Esposito fired home twice and Simone Feudi also got
his name on the scoresheet to put the Italians beyond reach. Not
even Stankovic, who scored yet another hat-trick, could do anything
to stop them.
Match officials: Carlos Frazao (POR), Joan Josep Llompart (ESP), Istvan Maszaros (HUN)