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When the African qualifiers for the 2015 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup get underway in the Seychelles on Tuesday, all eight participating teams have just one goal: to reach the final, which means they will be in the group of two to qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Portugal later this year. The tournament will be played in the newly-built stadium in Roche Caiman, which was constructed with financial help from FIFA and CAF.
Two-time African champions Nigeria have been drawn into Group A, where they will take on the hosts Seychelles, Egypt and Côte d'Ivoire. Having qualified for the World Cup in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011, the Supersand Eagles missed out on a place in Tahiti two years ago when they were beaten 9-8 in the semi-final by Senegal. Being one of just two teams (the other being Senegal) to have escaped the group phase at the global finals – in 2007 and 2011 – the west Africans are determined to return to the showpiece event of beach soccer.
The Nigerians played no qualifiers to get to finals after Libya pulled out, but they have an experienced coach in Audu Adamu, who was in charge of the side at the Beach Soccer World Cup in 2011 and 2009. His team is built around stars like skipper Isiaka Olawale, Victor Tale, who scored six goals at the World Cup finals in 2011, as well as Ogbonnaya Okemmiri. The side has a famous supporter in former Super Eagles international Taribo West who twice represented his country at the FIFA World Cup™. "I expect them to win and qualify. They have an incredible team, and I believe their handlers know what to do to keep them at the top. If they maintain their form from what I saw at the COPA Lagos, I think they will be unbeatable. They are incredibly good," he told journalists.
The side the Supersand Eagles will probably fear the most are Côte d'Ivoire, who beat them in the group phase last time around and then were beaten by Senegal in the final. Seychelles and Egypt are hoping not only to make up the numbers, but will probably struggle to get past the two favourites. The hosts are coached by Brazilian Bruno Malias Mendes, who took over the side at the beginning of March. He said he had already noticed an improvement from his players. "Before I came they were training three times a week and now they train 12 times a week. We will need to put into practice what we have learned and be comfortable playing in front of a large crowd.”
Senegal favourites in Group B
--> The favourites in Group B are three-time African champions Senegal and Madagascar, with Morocco and Ghana dangerous outsiders. Senegal coach Ibrahima Ndiaye said that while they were keen to successfully defend their title, their primary objective was to qualify for the World Cup. “If we have achieved that goal, we will look further. We are still the champions of Africa and I am confident that we can repeat that success as we have excellent preparations.”
Another team who will be full of confidence are Madagascar, who have just won the COSAFA Beach Soccer Cup in Seychelles. They stunned South Africa in the qualifiers, winning both matches in Durban 9-3 on aggregate. The islanders finished fourth at the qualifiers in 2011, but failed to make it through to the knock-out stage two years ago in Morocco.
Ghana, meanwhile, who qualified for the Seychelles with a strong 22-8 aggregate victory over Uganda, are still looking for their first victory on the continental stage. Their team was only formed eight years ago and they lost all three group matches in Morocco two years ago. Black Sharks coach Theo Armah, who doubles up as a broadcaster for a radio station under the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, said that there was no reason why they should not do well. “We have the beach and the players, what else do we need? We just have to train and train and be fit to beat the world,” he said.
Morocco, who hosted the two previous competitions, are hoping to become the first North African team to qualify for the finals but will need to improve on their previous performances, having finished third last time around and fifth in 2009 and 2011. They booked their ticket for the Seychelles with a convincing 16-1 win against Djibouti in a single eliminator played in Casablanca.