FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Caribbean Roundup
Beach soccer is a growing phenomenon. With growing interest each year, more and more TV stations are broadcasting locally and nationally, and a host of international teams are investing more time and energy into it; the beach version of the beautiful game is becoming more popular.
This year’s Beach Soccer World Cup begins in September and is being held in the small Pacific island of Tahiti, with its smooth, golden sands making Tahiti’s beaches the perfect surface. Qualifying started this month across all regions, not least in North America, hosted in Nassau, Bahamas.
Group A was the “Group of Death.” United States headed into qualifying with a glowing reputation, Guatemala boasted a squad filled with quick, nimble players and Puerto Rico were believed to be an unknown force and massively unpredictable. Then of course there were the hosts, Bahamas, who are notoriously gifted at beach soccer. Due to the openness of the matches and size of the pitches, the score-line was usually high. On the opening day, Puerto Rico succumbed to a 1-9 mauling at the hands of Bahamas with sharpshooter L. St. Fleur scoring a hat-trick. This was a serious sign of intent from the hosts.
The US – who won in the first match – made easy work of seeing off Puerto Rico a day later, while Bahamas edged out Guatemala 4-3. With one round of games to go, Bahamas looked in mesmerising form along with their US counterparts. The last day was crucial in terms of determining who progressed to the semi-finals (the team that finishes top of group goes to the semis) and the crunch match was Bahamas against the US. The latter won with conviction and subsequently went through leaving the Bahamas side to drown in their sorrows.
Elsewhere, Group B was equally as entertaining. Mexico showcased their ambition right from the off with a devastating 10-0 victory against feeble Canada. They then went on to thump Trinidad and Tobago 9-1, meaning they had accumulated a whopping 19 goals in just two outings, mainly thanks to the potency of the Mexican attack but also due to the hapless defending on show. On the last day of proceedings, the Canadians fought back from their disappointing opener to beat Trinidad 8-5 and then the pair played each other again just four hours later (due to fixture congestion and the modification to the schedule). This time, it was the complete reverse as the Soca Warriors cruised to a 5-0 demolition, with the rather unfortunately named Apoo netting three goals (two coming in the first three minutes). In the end, Trinidad ended up in mid-table with Canada in last but it was Mexico who ruthlessly played their way to a semi-final appearance (scoring 19, letting in one).
Costa Rica and El Salvador (clinching the wild card berth to the semis) progressed. On Saturday, the Placement Playoffs commenced. In the Ninth Place tie, Jamaica beat Puerto Rico 6-3. In the Seventh Place match, Trinidad saw off Canada 4-3 (former Premier League goalkeeper Shaka Hislop’s younger cousin Maka completed a hat-trick) and on Sunday, the Fifth Place game saw a real blockbuster. Bahamas drew 6-6 with Guatemala and it went to penalties, only for N. Jean to fluff his lines under pressure.
The final was contested between US and El Salvador. It was an end-to-end affair which saw nine goals all in all, but the US justified the hyperbole surrounding them beforehand by producing something when it mattered: a last-gasp strike in extra-time. Both sides will go on to represent North America in Tahiti.
In terms of individual accolades, El Salvador’s Agustin Ruiz was presented with the ‘Best Player’ award, US striker Nick Perera – who scored a brace in the Final – finished ‘Top Scorer’ with 11 goals and his fellow compatriot Chris Toth was named ‘Best Goalkeeper’.
It was bitterly disappointing that no Caribbean team could qualify for the eagerly anticipated World Cup later this year. It would have been ample opportunity to express themselves on the grandest stage of beach soccer, but it wasn’t to be. Now they must regroup, rethink and recharge for the 2015 qualifiers – which will be just as tough.