Spain triumph, Ukraine end wait
Spain won the European qualifiers for Russia 2021
La Roja had missed the previous two World Cups
Ukraine, Portugal, Belarus and Russia will also defend Europe at the finals
Spain emerged victorious from the European qualifiers for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup™, which took place in Nazare, Portugal from 17 to 27 June. Absent from the last two editions of the global tournament, La Roja made a triumphant return to the world stage with a fourth European title, nine years after their last one. Led by the inspirational Chiky Ardil, Spain beat four former World Cup participants – Poland, Italy (runners-up at the last World Cup), Belarus and Ukraine – en route to the title. On the subject of Ukraine, their absence from the world stage has been even longer, eight years in fact, so their return as European runners-up will be particularly satisfying. Their success would not have been possible without goalkeeper Andreii Nerush, named the tournament’s top keeper. Impressive throughout the competition, he was especially decisive in their 1-0 semi-final win in extra time against reigning world champions Portugal. Third in the qualifiers, the Portuguese will have the opportunity to defend their title in Russia, where they will also be joined by Belarus, back for a second tilt at a Beach Soccer World Cup by virtue of their semi-final appearance.
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Spain may have the best record in European qualifying, having won the event four times, but they are still searching for their maiden world crown despite seven participations in the event. Portugal, by contrast, have two world titles to their name but have yet to win the continental qualifiers.
Named Best Player in the qualifiers, Salvador Chiky Ardil Navarro celebrated a title win despite being suspended for the final. However, it was still possible to see an Ardil Navarro on the sand during the title match in the form of his brother David.
There will be no European teams making their World Cup debuts in Russia. Among the sides that came closest to a maiden qualification were Germany and Azerbaijan, only to bow out in the quarter-finals to Belarus (5-1) and Portugal (6-1) respectively.
The joint top scorers in the qualifiers, with ten goals apiece, were two Swiss stars with World Cup experience: Philipp Borer and Noel Ott. However, neither player will be on the flight to Russia after the Nati just missed out on the semis. The top scorer at the last Beach Soccer World Cup, Italy’s Gabriele Gori, will also be absent from Russia, after the Azzurri fell in the quarter-finals to Spain.
“For me, Portugal have what it takes to be world champions again. Also, because it is what we’re working towards at the Portuguese Football Federation, always aiming for the best possible level, in all disciplines. The national beach soccer team is a great example for us: they’ve been world champions, European champions, gold medallists at an Olympics. They’ve won everything, have a great group of players, and are very well managed. They’re a brilliant example for all our national teams. I hope we can both become world champions this year, in Lithuania, for our part, and in Russia for theirs.” Jorge Braz, Portugal futsal coach