The week leading up to the official kick-off of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 got off to a flying start. Spectators flocked to the Praia da Baia stadium in Espinho to cheer on the players in a game between Madjer’s friends and Vitor Baia’s friends, giving a small taste of what fans can expect from the world’s premier Beach Soccer tournament, which will be held from 9 to 19 July.
One team was led by Madjer, one of the world’s best beach soccer players and captain of a Portugal side seeking a maiden World Cup triumph. The other was led by one of football’s best and most trophy-laden goalkeepers of all time, Vitor Baia. Also part of the show were a host of other friends, stars and above all smiling faces, thanks in no small measure to the fact that many of Portugal’s top comedians had been “called up” into the squads.
Though not officially an entertainer, Ukra was one of the first to generate amusement on the Praia da Baia. The Rio Ave player is known as the king of the social networks, where he has made a name for himself as one of the most expansive and madcap Portuguese players off the pitch. When the teams were lined up for the non-official anthems, Ukra improvised a striptease that had the spectators in the stands roaring with laughter.
“I couldn’t play because I’ve started pre-season training at Rio Ave so I had to find some other way of enjoying myself,” explained Ukra, who had another surprise up his sleeve for later.
But it was time for the laughter to stop, or maybe not... As the ball started to roll on the Espinho beach, former Portuguese roller hockey international Filipe Gaidao showed that had he had opted for a different discipline he could have built a successful beach soccer career as the game showcased the class and finesse of the sport, truly whetting the appetite for when the serious business begins.
It was a good way to unwind before we get down to the serious business of the tournament.
Madjer, for example, lost his first duel with Vitor Baia as he tried to convert a direct free kick, but soon got his revenge with a stunning scissor kick to score an equaliser (4-4) and demonstrate his immense quality, even in a game necessarily played at half-speed.
As the fixture neared its conclusion Ukra again took centre stage, taking on the guise of a streaker as he ran onto the pitch wearing only his pants, triggering a simulated melee. The game ended with victory for Vitor Baia’s friends (6-5), only because in the dying seconds an incredible bicycle kick by Madjer smacked against the post instead of going into the net.
“It was a good way to unwind before we get down to the serious business of the tournament,” said the Portugal beach soccer captain. “There was a great spirit of fun and family, and it was wonderful to enjoy ourselves in a cheerful atmosphere before starting the World Cup.”
Portugal manager Mario Narciso also applauded the event. Doubling up as coach of Madjer’s friends this Saturday, he made a point of speaking about the fans who swapped the beach seafront in Espinho for a seat in the stands of the stadium.
“It’s amazing how the Portuguese public respond to such events," Narciso said. "If we can attract almost two thousand people for an exhibition match like today, just imagine what it will be like when the World Cup starts. Having four thousand people in the stands will certainly spur on the Portuguese team."