Final line-up set for next month's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Brazil
This year's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup moved a tantalising step closer to reality when the final qualifiers were completed this weekend in Durban (South Africa).
The draw for the event in Rio de Janeiro has produced some very exciting match-ups, not least in Group B where holders France will play current European champions Spain as well as Iran and Canada in the toughest-looking section. Italy, Bahrain, Argentina and African newcomers Nigeria also make for a formidable line-up in Group D, with the Argentines' meeting with Nigeria opening the tournament on the famous Copacabana beach on 2 November 2006 at 09:40 local time (14:40 CET).
In Group A, hosts Brazil will be looking to set the record straight after last year's semi-final exit, when they take on the surprising third-place finishers in this year's European finals, Poland, along with the USA and the fourth-placed team from the 2005 Beach Soccer World Cup, Japan. Finally, the Solomon Islands will kick off their maiden campaign in a FIFA tournament against African champions Cameroon, before facing Uruguay and Portugal. The Solomon Islands' 6-2 victory over Vanuatu in the final of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) qualifying tournament sealed a place in history for the team described as the 'Brazilians of the South Pacific'. Not only did it give them a place among the best 16 teams battling it out for the title in Rio, but it also made the Solomon Islands the first team other than Australia and New Zealand to qualify for a FIFA event from the OFC. Now they have the opportunity to show their potential against the best in the world on the famous Copacabana beach when they start their campaign on 2 November in the final match of the opening day of the competition.
The full match schedule can be found on the official FIFA website: http://www.fifa.com/en/comp/BSWC2006/0,4806,BSWC-2006-12,00.html
"Last year we saw fantastic matches with a surprise victory for Eric Cantona's France team. This defeat on home soil hurt the Brazilians, who are hungry for revenge this year. This year's qualifiers include several teams who have not featured before, like Bahrain and Poland, and they are hungry for success. The expectations and the rivalry between the teams is much greater, something that has been underlined by the fact that defending champions France had a much tougher time qualifying for this year's tournament. The venue of the Copacabana beach adds a little extra flavour, and I'm sure that we will see a thrilling competition," said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
This year, for the first time, all the participating associations have taken part in official qualifying competitions in each of the six confederations and games are being played in accordance with the new FIFA Beach Soccer Laws of the Game in line with FIFA's quality standard. Casting an eye forward to the final tournament itself, the official website for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006, www.FIFA.com , will once again offer the most extensive coverage of all the action from the event, including video highlights with plenty of fascinating action.