The seaside resort of Espinho hosted the draw for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 on Tuesday, with the 16 participating nations learning who they will face in the group phase of the competition, to be held on the Praia da Baia on 9-19 July.
Lending a helping hand at the ceremony, which left tournament hosts and Group A seeds Portugal facing Japan, Argentina and Senegal, and multiple world champions Brazil taking on Mexico, Spain and Iran, were former Portugal goalkeeper Vitor Baia and ex-France midfielder Christian Karembeu.
The full draw is as follows:
In extending a warm welcome to the ceremony to representatives from nearly all the 16 finalists, FIFA Beach Soccer Committee member Joan Cusco said: “On behalf of FIFA President, Joseph S. Blatter, I would like to welcome you to Espinho," he said. "2015 will be an outstanding year for beach soccer, with the World Cup in Portugal, that will leave a legacy to the community. I trust that will happen as well as the success of the World Cup. I would like to underline the work done, in the last five years, in Madagascar, qualified for the first time to a FIFA World Cup."
Taking his turn to address a packed auditorium, Pinto Moreira, the chairman of Espinho Municipal Council, spoke of the growing sense of expectation in the town at the prospect of hosting the biggest sporting event in its history.
“Espinho is a city full of nice and welcoming people, who are anxious to receive the Beach Soccer World Cup," he said. "I can guarantee that the stadium will be full to receive the matches. I wish all the best to the 16 teams qualified for the World Cup. We’ll prove that we can organize the best FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup ever”
Portuguese Football Association (FPF) President Fernando Gomes then stepped up to hail the wider importance of the competition and the enthusiastic support of FIFA and Espinho Municipal Council for five key projects to be rolled out in the coming months.
“It is a great honour for the country to be hosting the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015. It is an excellent choice for historical, cultural, environmental and sporting reasons,” he said.
Detailing the five projects in question, Gomes explained that the FPF will build six beach soccer stadiums; implement a youth-oriented beach soccer development plan; set up an elite national league featuring Portugal’s top eight clubs; provide training for beach soccer coaches and referees; and propose the game’s inclusion on the national school sports programme.
Speaking at the draw, former adversaries with Barcelona and Real Madrid Vitor Baia and Christian Karembeu exchanged pleasantries and shared their views on the upcoming tournament.
"The Portuguese goal is to go for the title, with a lot of support from the fans," Baia said. "We have all the confidence on our players and coach"
"Of course I’ll support Portugal," Karembeu added. "Though I wish luck to Tahiti and Madagascar as well. I hope the competition is a success"
Free entry for all
There was more good news when tournament ambassador Nuno Gomes addressed the audience.
“Admission will be free to every match,” announced the former Portugal forward. “Portuguese fans can go to the stadium to support our national team and watch the other sides in action, just like that.”
Details on the distribution of the free tickets will be made available shortly on FIFA.com.
To set the scene for the Beach Soccer World Cup, a special friendly match will be held at the host stadium on 4 July, less than a week before the big kick-off, with the Friends of the Ambassadors taking on the Friends of Madjer, the Portuguese beach soccer legend. Tickets for this mouth-watering match-up will also be free.
As if that were not enough, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Trophy Tour will also be kicking off this Wednesday, with the coveted cup going on display at Espinho City Hall through to 5 May before paying a visit to Esposende, Figueira da Foz, Nazare and Carcavelos.
The trophy will then take up residence on the Praia da Baia in Espinho, where the 16 finalists will fight it out for the right to become FIFA Beach Soccer world champions of 2015.