Al Thanawi: Oman can be dark horses in Russia

14 Jul 2021
  • Talib Al Thanawi hoping to lead Oman to knockout phase of Russia 2021

  • He also coached the team in their previous three World Cup campaigns

  • Oman grouped with defending champions, a former runner-up and African champions

Oman's national beach soccer team have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and are now among the top teams in Asia. Continental champions in 2015, when they prevailed against one of the sport’s powerhouses Japan, they qualified for three of the last five FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups™. Instrumental in those achievements was their distinguished coach Talib Al Thanawi, who was at the helm for all three of those tournaments. Now as he prepares his side for their fourth participation, his goal is to break new ground and go beyond the group phase for the first time. The task will not be easy after Oman were drawn in a tough Group D alongside title holder Portugal, African champions Senegal, and 2006 World Cup runners-up Uruguay. “We’ve faced all of our group opponents before and are well aware of the capabilities of each side. We’ll be ready to perform well and hopefully go far at the tournament,” said Al Thanawi. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the 57-year-old spoke about the development of beach soccer in Oman, his side’s previous participations at the World Cup and why he feels they could be a dark horse at next month’s extravaganza in Russia.

ESPINHO, PORTUGAL - JULY 11: Head coach Talib al Thanawi of Oman reacts during the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 Group B match between Oman and Italy at Espinho Stadium on July 11, 2015 in Espinho, Portugal. (Photo by Alex Grimm - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

FIFA.com: Having coached Oman in each of their Beach Soccer World Cup participations, how would you assess the progress of the sport in the country and the role played by regular appearances on the world stage? Talib Al Thanawi: In the 13 years since beach soccer began in Oman, the discipline has been constantly evolving. For example, we saw that with the national team’s performance at the Asian Games in Al Mussanah, where we achieved an unprecedented second place on home soil. Then later that same year, the team qualified for the 2011 Beach Soccer World Cup in Italy, which was a big step forward for Omani beach soccer in just a few years. For you, what has been Oman's best performance at a Beach Soccer World Cup, and why? A match I’ll never forget was our clash with Costa Rica at Portugal 2015, which we won 7-2 for our first victory in a World Cup game. We then won for the second time at Paraguay 2019 with a 6-5 defeat of Nigeria. Oman narrowly lost to Portugal two years ago in Paraguay. Did you expect your team to perform so well against the eventual champions? Yes, the team put in a great performance against Portugal, who went on to win that World Cup, but we gave as good as we got and ran them close. The reason we did so well is that I watched Portugal's first match against Nigeria and analysed it closely. I was able to identify Portugal’s weaknesses, even if their greater experience made the difference in the end. We also competed well in our first match against defending champions Brazil, which we also lost due to a lack of experience. So I believe this team can compete against anyone if we have necessary facilitation to implement the programme we’ve prepared for the tournament.

How are preparations going for what will be Oman’s fourth participation at a Beach Soccer World Cup? Preparations for Russia 2021 began with a camp in Morocco from 10 to 16 May this year, when we played two friendlies against the Moroccan national team. We had a second camp in the UAE in June, facing UAE twice and Senegal twice in friendlies. Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected beach soccer in Oman and your general preparations for the World Cup? There’s no doubt that the pandemic has greatly affected all the national teams, especially the beach soccer one, because of the suspension of sporting activity in Oman. This required us to do our work in external camps, but the long gaps between these negatively impacted the players.

Now that Oman are one of the top beach soccer sides in Asia, can the team side carry that success on to the world stage? The team can be the dark horses in Russia. That’s our ambition and objective at the tournament, provided we can prepare well and have the friendly games we need to be in the best possible condition for the biggest event in beach football. Oman have not yet managed to go beyond the group stage at a World Cup. Do you think the team can finally break that barrier in Russia? Our goal at Russia 2021 is to reach the second round. If we do that, then we’ll be trying to go as far as possible in the tournament. It’s no secret that our team are one of the best in Asia and the world, so it’s time for people to see just how much progress we’ve made.