Same faces, different order

In emphatically winning last week’s South American Beach Soccer Championship in Ecuador, Brazil showed they remain a force to be reckoned with on sand. The victory not only saw them reclaim the continental crown they had relinquished two years earlier, it also enabled them to qualify in style for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015.

In Espinho this July, when they will have their sights firmly set on winning their first world title since 2009, A Canarinho will be joined by Paraguay and Argentina, just as they were at the previous edition in Tahiti in 2013. takes a look back at the regional qualifying event where the pre-tournament favourites all lived up to their billing.

The championsBrazil’s march to the continental title never looked in doubt, despite losing along the way to Argentina for the first time in this event. It should be noted, however, that the aforementioned reverse came after ASeleção had already brushed aside Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela and booked their place in the semis as Group B winners. As if to prove the loss had been an aberration, they followed it with a ruthless demolition of Ecuador (14-1) in the semi-final before enjoying another goal-fest in the decider against Paraguay (8-3).

The defeat to their arch-rivals could not blemish a wonderful tournament for Brazil, who have been in dazzling form since the return of Alexandre Soares, the coach that led them to their four FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup titles. And while stellar performances from evergreen goalkeeper Mao and wide man Bruno Xavier have come to be expected, the success of Datinha (tournament top scorer with 12 goals) and the young pivot Rodrigo, a natural replacement for veteran Betinho, owes much to the judgement of Soares. It came as little surprise then to see A Canarinho concede the fewest goals (18) and score the most (48) en route to their fifth title in six editions.

Also qualifiedParaguay were also hotly tipped to qualify for their second successive Beach Soccer World Cup, and their performances in Ecuador only served to justify that faith. Tested severely in their opener against Colombia, who they defeated by the narrowest of margins in a nine-goal thriller, they then strung together comfortable wins over Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador to top Group A. Against the hosts, who were unbeaten until that point, La Albirroja were especially impressive in attack, while their semi-final defeat of Argentina showed a considerable degree of maturity.

And while they can have no complaints about their comprehensive loss to Brazil in the decider, on the whole this was a very positive tournament for Paraguay. Seasoned marksman Pedro Moran, the tournament’s second highest scorer with 11, was ably assisted by Amado Rolon (7) and Juan Lopez (7) – the trio accounting for 70 per cent of their team’s goals. Until the final, Ivan Fernandez had presided over the meanest defence, but not even the eight goals Brazil put past him would stop him being named the tournament’s Best Goalkeeper. Part of the credit for the team’s defensive solidity must go to veteran Roberto Acuna, who more than justified the faith coach Cayo Villalba put in him.

For Argentina, in contrast, the road to Portugal was a lot more challenging. After beating Venezuela by a single goal and needing a shoot-out to edge past Peru, they then lost to Uruguay to leave their Group B fate out of their hands. And while results elsewhere did help them in the group’s final matchday, they played their part by defeating Brazil to progress to the last four.

Roundly beaten by Paraguay in the semi-final, La Albiceleste had no time to feel sorry for themselves before vying with Ecuador for the final ticket to Portugal in the match for third place. Again they made life hard for themselves, throwing away a three-goal lead in a 4-4 draw, before eventually prevailing 1-0 on spot-kicks. Throughout the event, the character and experience of goalkeeper Marcelo Salguero and defender Luciano Franceschini was key, as was the effectiveness going forward of wide man Lucas Medero, the event’s third highest scorer with ten goals.

Other conclusionsHosts Ecuador lived up to expectations despite heavy defeats at the hands of Brazil and Paraguay. Besides emerging from their group with relative ease, they also boasted figures of the stature of Segundo Moreira, voted the tournament’s Best Player. A lack of strength in depth would eventually take its toll, although Argentina still required penalties to deny them the final ticket to Portugal.

For Uruguay, finishing in fifth will have left a bitter after-taste, especially having lost to Peru in their final Group B game to miss out on a semi-final spot. No less frustrated will be Peru, who took Argentina to penalties, overcame Uruguay and for a while also had designs on a last-four spot only to be denied by Argentina’s surprise win over Brazil.