– FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup hosts aiming for third world crown
– Football Union of Russia captain Anton Shkarin is feeling the pressure
– “First game – against USA on 19 August – the hardest”
Three years on from the magnificent 2018 FIFA World Cup™, Russia will again host a major tournament. The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Russia 2021™ gets underway on 19 August and will almost certainly rekindle memories of that carnival atmosphere in 2018.
Those images are also fresh in the mind of Anton Shkarin, captain of the Football Union of Russia beach soccer team and their most experienced player. He, along with every other fan, revelled in his countrymen’s success.
“It’s a shame I wasn’t able to get to a match. At that time, we had a tough run of decisive games at club level and we were on the road a lot. We did manage to get to the FIFA Fan Fest in Moscow though and watch Russia’s game with Spain. Afterwards, we headed into the city centre to celebrate. The emotions I experienced were incredible, some of the best of my life”, says Shkarin in conversation with FIFA.com.
For Russia, reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup was a big success. However, expectations are much higher for the beach soccer side after being crowned world champions in 2011 and 2013. And 38-year-old Shkarin, who played a key role in those triumphs, is aware of the hopes invested in his team.
“Every World Cup has been different for me; but now, I’ve got this new, special feeling, which I can’t put my finger on. All the guys in the team feel the same. Until recently, I couldn’t believe that Russia was hosting the Beach Soccer World Cup. I’m pleased that we’ll be able to show our fans what we can do. For me, the most important thing is that after the tournament, I can say that we didn’t let down the fans and every player gave their all on the pitch.”
Team game is host’s strength
FIFA.com: How does this team differ from the ones that triumphed in 2011 and 2013?
Anton Shkarin: Our main qualities have stayed the same. Firstly, we’re strong as a team, as well as tactically. Of course, our style has changed, and beach soccer itself has really evolved over that period.
In what way?
I’ve been playing beach soccer for 16 years now, and back when I started, the sport was more of a spectacle, a lot came down to individual brilliance. If you had skill, you’d almost be guaranteed to go on and achieve great things in beach soccer. And now, without exemplary fitness, you won’t go far in our sport, and without strength training and endurance, you’ll be out of gas by the third period. The skill level has also increased. Before, only the best forwards could execute bicycle kicks. Now, you see 20-30 overhead kicks a game. And the nicest thing is that beach soccer has become much more popular.
The World Cup usually attracts lots of new fans. How would you explain what makes this sport unique to someone who has never seen a beach soccer match?
It’s football, but with eye-catching elements you don’t often see on grass. When you play on sand, the ball is often in the air. It’s entertaining! I’ve never heard of anyone going away from a beach soccer match disappointed. If you watch a game, you’ll become a fan.And our team will try not to disappoint. As I’ve already said, we’re feeling a few extra nerves, but I know how to deal with them. The first game is often the most difficult; get through that and the nerves will disappear.
No such thing as an unbeatable side
You meet USA in your opening game. What do you know about them?
I didn’t manage to see the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers, but our coach watched them and he was full of praise. It’s clear they’re no longer the same team we beat comfortably a few years ago. They’ve got a young, bold side who can cause any problems for anyone.
What do you think about the other teams in the group – Japan and Paraguay?
We’ve played Japan many times. Historically, they’ve been a good opponent for us; I don’t remember the last time we lost to them. But they’re very strong now, and their main strength is their discipline. I kept a close eye on Paraguay in the last World Cup. I liked them as a team, they have some excellent players who are very strong individually, but their results were a little disappointing. I expected more from them. I think they’ll want to do better in Russia, but I think that we’re good enough to qualify from the group.
As usual, Brazil are considered favourites. Can they be beaten?
There’s no such thing as an unbeatable side in beach soccer, and those who think they’re invincible, usually end up disappointed. Brazil can be beaten. We showed that at the last World Cup when we brought their long unbeaten run to an end.
Who else can challenge for the title, apart from Brazil and Russia?
I’d say Portugal. They’re reigning world champions with a number of excellent players. Spain also have an exceptionally talented generation. They’ve performed very well recently at European level. Out of the African sides, I’d pick Senegal.