The final qualifying chapter for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Bahamas 2017 starts this weekend on the beach sands of Pantai Batu Buruk in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia, as 12 teams will contest this year’s AFC Beach Soccer Championship. Three spots at Bahamas 2017 are on offer for the contestants from 4 to 11 March 2017, with this year’s Asian qualifiers being staged for the first time in South-east Asia after the previous seven editions took place in the Middle East.
On Tuesday, Asia’s beach soccer hopefuls learned which groups the three qualified teams will play in at Bahamas 2017. The newly-crowned Asian champions will advance to play Mexico, Italy and Nigeria in Group B at the Beach Soccer World Cup. The runners-up at the AFC Beach Soccer Championship were drawn in Group C, where they will face Paraguay, Panama and Portugal at the world finals. The third-place finisher at Malaysia 2017 will play in Group D versus Poland, Tahiti and Brazil in the Caribbean.
For these Asian aspirants to secure those three spots, they must advance to the semi-finals at Malaysia 2017 as winners of one of the three groups drawn in early January or be the best second-placed team in the competition. The semi-final winners will earn their places at Bahamas 2017, while the two losing semi-finalists will play for the third and final qualifying spot.
Top-ranked Iran look for second title
Drawn in a five-team group at the AFC Beach Soccer Championship, there will be expectations on Iran to win their second Asian beach soccer title after a productive build-up to Malaysia 2017.
Currently the top-ranked side in Asia, Iran head into the qualifiers in good form after winning last month’s Persian Beach Soccer Cup title with victories over World Cup-bound Italy and Poland on home sand. Last November, Mohammad Hossein Mirshamsi’s side finished second behind Brazil at the Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup in Dubai. The Iranians will face 2006 Asian champions Bahrain, tournament hosts Malaysia, Afghanistan and China PR in Group A.
Defending champions aim for repeat
Oman travel to South-east Asia with aims of repeating their successful efforts of two years ago when they claimed their first Asian title in Qatar. The Sultanate have been drawn in Group B, where they will face Lebanon and Thailand in a revised three-team group following the last-minute withdrawal of Uzbekistan from the qualifiers.
Talib Hilal Al Thanawi’s side have also had a good build-up to Malaysia 2017, having defeated European powerhouse Switzerland in two recent friendlies in the Omani capital of Muscat before earning wins over Bahrain last month.
Uzbekistan’s late withdrawal will make the task of reaching the semi-finals from Group B more challenging, as the successful side will likely need two victories to win the group and advance to the last four.
Looking for a third Asian crown
Group C consists of two sides looking to become the competition’s most successful team in Japan and United Arab Emirates. The Japanese were Asian champions in 2009 and 2011, while UAE claimed the title in 2007 and 2008.
Marcelo Mendes’s Japanese squad will also have the extra motivation of trying to go one better than two years ago when they lost on penalties to Oman in the final. Their preparations included success at last month’s Thailand 5s Beach Soccer Championship, where the Far East nation scored an impressive 32 goals in four matches in Bangkok.
Qatar, who hosted the last two editions of the AFC Beach Soccer Championship, and Iraq round out the field in the four-team Group C.