World Cup in sight for Asia's beach hopefuls
AFC Beach Soccer Championship gets underway tomorrow
Three tickets at the Beach Soccer World Cup up for grabs
IR Iran and Japan the pre-tournament favourites
The qualifying phase for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Paraguay 2019 now shifts to Thailand, where the AFC Beach Soccer Championship 2019 is about to get underway.
Tournament in brief
Host city: Pattaya, Thailand
Dates: 7-17 March
At stake: Three berths at Paraguay 2019
Format: The top two in each group advance to the knockout phase, which starts at the quarter-final stage. The champion, beaten finalist and winner of the third-place game will all qualify for the World Cup.
Right now, IR Iran are the clear favourites for the continental title. As well as being defending champions, the Iranians took bronze at the last edition of the Beach Soccer World Cup and have continued to rack up impressive results since then.
Led by goalkeeper Peyman Hosseini, winner of the adidas Golden Glove at Bahamas 2017, and evergreen goalscorer Mohammad Ahmadzadeh, adidas Golden Ball and Silver Boot recipient two years ago, they are unquestionably the team to beat.
Not far behind are Japan who, along with five-time world champions Brazil, have never missed an edition of the Beach Soccer World Cup.
And while the Samurai Blues have not won the continental title since 2011 and failed to make the final for the first time in 2017, with the talented Ozu in their ranks, they are more than capable of hitting the heights once again.
United Arab Emirates not only qualified for three of the first four Beach Soccer World Cups, they have also managed to rebuild their team in recent years and return to prominence. Two-time Asian champions, they were runners-up in 2017 and have what it takes to compete for the title.
After finishing fourth in the last two editions of the AFC Championship and narrowly missing out on a maiden World Cup appearance each time, Lebanon would dearly love to end that sequence and finally step onto the world stage.
Oman, Asian champions in 2015, and Bahrain, who have an established tradition in the sport, are two sides that could spring a surprise in this edition.
Did you know...?
Two teams will be making their tournament debut in Thailand, increasing the number of participants from 13 to 15, compared to the previous edition. The two first-timers are Malaysia and Kyrgyzstan.
Thailand, the hosts of this year’s championship, have never qualified for a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. They were, however, invited to the inaugural edition: Brazil 2005.