The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Finals in Portugal exceeded everyone’s expectations. Not just in the sheer scale and popularity of the event, but also with the level of skill on display.
Sunday’s final – held at Espinho just south of Porto – was made all the more exciting by the fact that host national Portugal had made it to the final where they had to take on the tournament’s surprise package Tahiti. Eager fans started queuing for tickets more than 20 hours before kick-off and by 3:00pm on Sunday afternoon, a line of over 3 km had formed.
Only a third of those people were lucky enough to get seats in the stadium while the rest had to make do with watching the game along with thousands others on a giant screen located in the fans zone. Anyone walking into the area would have been forgiven for thinking that the Portugal national team were playing in the traditional Football World Cup final; such was the enthusiasm for the event.
After a week of thrilling entertainment that helped Beach Soccer gain many new fans, the final did not disappoint. The Tahiti team, known as the “Tiki Toa”, had generated much neutral support after becoming the first team from Oceania to make it to a World Cup final. Having finished fourth when they hosted the tournament two years ago, the team had already proved their acumen in this sport. However, they were unable to beat a Portuguese side that were in irresistible form.
With an understandably biased crowd on their side, Portugal wasted no time in attacking the Tahitian goal and opened the scoring through star player Madjer after just 3 seconds. The goal was the fastest of the tournament and set the tone for the rest of the game. By the end of the first period, the lead had been doubled by Belchior and the hosts looked in total control. When Coimbra made it 3-0 after 16 minutes, the game looked well and truly over but the Tahitian team were not finished just yet.
An immediate reply from Labaste and a stunning strike from Li Fung Kuee just two minutes later stunned the home crowd and brought the underdogs right back into the game. A ridiculous long distance free-kick from Novo restored the two-goal advantage with just 12 minutes to go before Fung Kuee struck again to reduce the gap to 4-3. The same player really should have levelled the scores, but somehow missed an open goal from just a couple of yards out. The sense of relief amongst the crowd was palpable.
With just 48 seconds to go, a chipped effort from Alan put the scores beyond the Pacific Islanders much to the delight of the jubilant crowd. Frenzied scenes followed as the Portuguese fans spilled onto the beach to celebrate.
The event was a big hit with TV fans and the best moments were distributed to a worldwide audience via social media. With a host of new fans on board and a much higher profile, the tournament will now move on to the Bahamas for the 2017 event.
Written by Neil Morris
Follow Neil on Twitter @nmorris01
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