That Europe has generally produced the world’s best beach soccer teams for over a decade now may no longer come as much of a surprise to fans. Indeed, four of the eight FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups played to date have been won by European nations (Russia twice, France and Portugal) and four runners-up have also come from the ‘old continent’ (although no one country has been as successful as four-time winners Brazil).
Europe’s overall dominance therefore provided the backdrop to the efforts of the 28 teams that competed in the Italian resort of Jesolo between 2 and 11 September for the four European slots at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Bahamas 2017. Following the action, Italy, Switzerland and reigning world champions Portugal, three of the game's heavyweights, could celebrate having booked their tickets to the Caribbean, with the fourth spot going to an altogether less-fancied side. Poland defied all expectations to not only qualify for the showpiece event but also to actually win the qualification tournament itself.
Russia, World Cup winners in 2011 and 2013, could only finish fifth and will consequently be spectators when the tournament rolls around next April and May. Azerbaijan finished eighth but were one of the more positive stories to emerge from qualifying, but 2005 World Cup winners France (seventh) and 2011 runners-up Spain (ninth) performed somewhat below expectations.
Poland wasted no time in announcing their intent, meanwhile, winning seven of their eight matches and playing particularly impressively in beating Russia 5-3. That was followed up by an extra-time 3-2 win over Italy in the semi-finals and a comprehensive 6-3 triumph against the Swiss in the final. Szymon Gasinski was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament, while Boguslaw Saganowski took the award for Player of the Tournament (MVP). Only the top goalscorer award was not won by a Poland player, with Switzerland’s Dejan Stankovic claiming that honour after firing his country to a fourth World Cup (the Swiss competed in 2009, 2011 and 2015 but missed out in 2013).
*Madjer reaches historic milestone
*World champions and favourites Portugal appeared unstoppable for much of qualification in Jesolo. They were comfortably the best attacking side of the 28 teams – after only four matches their goal difference read 42:1 – but in the semi-finals they came up against a seemingly immovable object in Switzerland and succumbed to a 3-1 loss, eventually finishing third.
Despite that disappointment, however, there was cause for celebration for superstar forward Madjer, who netted his 1000th goal for Portugal in their match against England. “It was an unbelievable moment, something historic, and not just for me but for everyone who’s helped me achieve that target,” said the 39-year-old.
The hosts also delivered an overall performance to be proud of, harnessing the enthusiasm shown by the crowd to march into the semi-finals unbeaten, before coming unstuck against the eventual winners.
At present only two countries – host nation Bahamas and 2015 World Cup runners-up Tahiti – have been confirmed to compete alongside the four countries from Europe between 27 April and 7 May next year. A further ten teams will qualify for the tournament in the coming months, before the official group stage draw is made on 28 February.