Defending champions Brazil will start as the favourites to lift the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup that kicks off in Paraguay in just under twelve hours.
It would take something special from their rivals, to beat Brazil, who have won the title an incredible 14 times since its inception in 1995.
The Brazilians coached by the legendary Gilberto Sousa, would parade some of the best players on the sand with the experienced Bruno Xavier and Mao as their pillars. Goalkeeper Mao is a steady influence between the posts and was the Glove Glove winner in 2009. Defender Xavier was the Golden Ball winner in 2013.
They will also have the likes of Rodrigo, Datinha and Mauricinho lending an aura of invincibility to the South American giants. It was Rodrigo’s stunning goal that helped Brazil eliminate Portugal en route to the title two years ago. He was also the top scorer for Brazil in the qualifying rounds.
Two-time champions Russia and Portugal are expected to be their biggest rivals. Also in the fray to challenge the Brazilians would be Tahiti, who finished as runners-up at the past two editions.
Sixteen teams have qualified for the tournament, previously known as the Beach Soccer World Championships. FIFA took over its governance in 2005, with this being the fifth tournament under the biennial basis.
The tournament is being held in Asuncion situated in the landlocked South American country of Paraguay.
FIFA awarded Paraguay the tournament in October of last year after Australia and Barbados decided against following up their official declarations of interest.
With no natural beach in the country, a brand new 2,820-capacity beach soccer arena – the Los Pynandi World Cup Stadium – has been erected at a cost of US$1.5 million on the grounds of the National Olympic Committee in east Asuncion.
Brazil’s biggest threat in Group D would be Portugal, who last won the title in 2015. Also in the group are Oman and Nigeria.
Portugal will have in their squad, perhaps the best beach soccer player ever in the form of Madjaer. The Angola born player is a two time Golden Ball winner and was instrumental in Portugal’s title win in 2015. The evergreen winger has won 11 individual awards across eight editions.
Nigeria will also have the talented Abu Azeez, who made his international debut when he was just 15 year-old.
Group A will see hosts Paraguay together with Asian champions Japan, Switzerland and the USA. Japan will be hoping for their talisman Ozu Moreira, who was listed as the best five players at the Beach Soccer Star four times. He has scored 100 goals for Japan at the international arena.
Group B will comprise of Uruguay, Mexico, Italy and Tahiti. Italy will have Pedro Moran and Gabriele Gori to lead their challenge. Moran was 2015 Golden Boot winner and would be making his fourth World Cup appearance. As for Gori, he took the Golden Scorer Award two years ago in Bahamas with 17 goals.
Heimanu Taiarui, would be the player to watch in the Tahiti squad. The former fisherman, nicknamed Metal was the Golden Ball winner in 2015.
Also in the the Tahiti team is goalkeeper Jonathan Torohia winner of the Golden Glove two years ago.
Debutant Belarus are in Group C with UAE, African champions Senegal and Russia. Dimitrii Shishinru, who was in the Russian squad that won the titles in 2011, and 2013, would be hoping for a third world title with the side. Since making his debut for Russia in 2007, Shishinru has scored over 200 goals for the national team.