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The World Is A Beach

The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Marseille 2008 confirmed that the sport’s success is set to continue far beyond its birthplace on the Copacabana beach. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the Brazilians from retaining their championship crown.
At first sight, the scene appeared to be an exact repeat of the last two years, with caprain Junior Negao radiating his unmistakable smile as he lifted the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup trophy for the third year in succession. Yet there was a lot more to
the tournament than mere confirmation of Brazil’s global supremacy on sand. The fourth ever Beach Soccer World Cup was the first to be held away from its birthplace on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach and the unqualified success of the ten-day event on Marseille’s El Prado beach has served notice of the fact that the sport is entering a new era.
“I know I should be rather used to this because it’s the third time in a row, but it really does feel as if it were the first time,” enthused 44-year-old Junior Negao, who also announced chat this would be his last World Cup. “It was absolutely fantastic to play in a World Cup outside Brazil, for us, because we were able to win the tournament despite not having out fans there to support us, and above all for the sport in general. I have made my living from beach soccer for the last 15 years, since the sport’s early days, and it makes me proud to play on another continent in a stadium that is full every day. The sport has made tremendous progress, which is why it is a credit to us that we are still world champions.”
The Brazilians’ ability to fly over the sand once again did the business, but no one can claim that it was an easy ride. Three times the Cnnarinha found themselves on the ropes and on the verge of losing their incredible unbeaten record, which started after the 2005 Beach Soccer World Cup. They were provided with one of their sternest tests in the opening match against Spain, which they went on to win 3-2. After topping their group, Alexandre Soares’s charges then suffered in the face of Russian goalkeeper Audrey Bukhlirskiys heroics and the opportunism of Egor Shaykov.
For a long time the Russians were on top in their match against the world
champions before a hat trick by Daniel inspired the Brazilians to a 6-4 victory. Then came Portugal in the semi-finals, Brazil’s historical rivals and the team responsible for Brazil’s last defeat in the semi-finals of the 2005 World Cup. With their offensive trio of Madjer, Belchior and Alan looking sharper than ever, the Portuguese showed signs of repeating their trick of three years ago, but it was not to be. With Buru suspended, it was up to his supposed stand-ins to settle the match. This time it was Andre who scored a hat trick, tying the match at four apiece before Bruno scored the winner. Relieved and
confident after seeing off these challenges, Brazil went into the final with a renewed aura of invincibility.
Surprise package Italy, for whom Pasquali, Palmacci and Feudi had performed so impressively, were powerless against their opponents in the first two periods, in which braces for Bruno and Sidney saw Brazil gallop to a 4-0 lead. It was then a case of too little too late for the Squadra Azzurra, as the match ended 5-3, thus signalling a triumphant end to what had been Brazil’s trickiest campaign to date.
“To be honest, I thought Portugal were even better than the Brazilians. We had the tournament’s best attack and also the highest goalscorer in Madjer, who has topped the scoring charts in three of the last four World Cups. The only difference
with respect to Brazil is the quality of the players coming off the bench. You never know if the decisive player is going to be Benjamin, Bum, Andre, Daniel or Bruno. But there is no longer a noticeable difference in terms of talent. There is talent everywhere,” says Portugal’s Belchior, who won the adidas Bronze Ball and Bronze Shoe.
Indeed, the only Brazilian to win an individual award was the magical Benjamin, who won the Silver Ball. Meanwhile, fourth-placed Spain’s absence on the podium was made up for by the recognition that was showered upon their star players. Roberto Valeiro was voted Goalkeeper of the tournament and picked up the adidas Golden Glove – the first time such a trophy has been awarded at a FIFA competition – while Ramiro Amarelle delighted Marseille with his seemingly endless repertoire of overhead kicks. Despite suffering from the curse of star players who miss decisive penalty kicks (in the semi-final against Italy), he still picked up the Golden Ball for best player.
Also worthy of mention is the quality of the players from countries who were less successful in the tournament, such as Senegalese giant Pape Koukpaki or skilful James Naka of the Solomon Islands – both of whom scored a total of eight goals in their countries’ three group-stage matches. “The standard of the teams is better than ever. In every single game there was at least one phenomenal player,” said France coach Eric Cantona, whose charges gained first-hand experience of the general increase in ability. Despite winning the tournament in 2005 and reaching the semi-finals on the last two occasions, the French were unable to exploit home advantage, losing in the quarter-finals to Italy, who had never previously got further than the group stage.
Safe in the knowledge that beach soccer’s appeal is certainly not restricted to Brazil, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup can now look forward to the next challenge: Dubai 2009. “It will be new for everyone and will no doubt serve as another platform for the sport’s development,” says three-time World Cup-winning coach Alexandre Soares. Having left its home on the Atlantic, beach soccer has now left its mark on the Mediterranean and is set to make a similar impression on the Gulf. With every year that passes, the sport reaffirms its potential to become a truly global game, even if the championship crown continues to belong to Brazil.