Portugal and Tahiti will contest the deciding game of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup after two unforgettable semi-finals, with the hosts defeating two-time world champions Russia in regulation time, and the Tahitians qualifying for their first final after overcoming Italy on penalties.
One thing is guaranteed in Sunday’s grand final in Espinho – the sport will acclaim a new world champion, the fourth in beach soccer history. That distinction will go to either Portugal, back in the final ten years after finishing runners-up at Rio de Janeiro 2005, or Tahiti, whose beach soccer fairytale continues.
After making their first appearance in this tournament in 2011, when they recorded two defeats and a win in three games, the Oceanian country hosted the tournament two years ago and finished fourth, an achievement they are now certain to surpass this year. By any standard, Tahiti’s win over the Azzurri was truly epic. After the teams finished regulation and extra time level on six goals apiece, it took a penalty shootout, and Jonathan Torohia’s decisive save of Paolo Palmacci’s spot kick, before the celebrations could begin in earnest.
The clash between Portugal and Russia may not have produced as many goals, but it was no less exciting for that. The pair were still deadlocked at 2-2 after the third period, before Portuguese spirit, and the support of the home fans, carried the locals to success – with Bruno Novo and Be Martins sealing an unforgettable triumph.
Italy 6-6 Tahiti (1-3 PSO)
Portugal 4-2 Russia
Inspiring anthem boosts Portugal
During the dramatic finale of the Portugal-Russia showdown, the vast majority of the 3,500 fans who once again filled the Estadio da Praia da Baia also played their part when, as the clock down, the whole stadium roared out the Portuguese anthem. Their team responded in fine style by duly clinching their place in the final.
Penalties after 29 games
With just one game in the group stage and quarter-finals going to extra time, the Italy-Tahiti semi was the first of this World Cup to be decided on penalties. After losing the match for third place in 2013 on spot kicks, this time it was the Tahitians’ turn to celebrate.
Italy had rotated their goalkeeper in every game of this championship, and the penalty shootout in Saturday’s semi-final was no exception. First Stefano Spada could do nothing to stop Tahiti’s opening spot kick, then Simone del Mestre failed to stop the second, before Spada was once again beaten by Tahiti’s third and final penalty, leaving the Italians in tears on the sand.
2000 – the number of goals scored in the history of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Championships, a tally that was reached and surpassed this Saturday. Tahiti’s Naea Bannett was responsible for the historic strike in the semi-final against Italy when he put his side 3-1 ahead.
“For me, the key to our success was that we defended better than the Russians. I don’t regard us as favourites in the final, considering the great football that Tahiti have been playing.”
Portugal coach Mario Narciso
“Portugal are the favourites for me, because they’ll have the vast majority of the fans behind them, even though the people of Espinho have really taken Tahiti to their hearts. We’re going to play our way.”
Tahiti coach Tehina Rota* *
“It’s a fantastic feeling! This is my first World Cup and now I’m going to play in the final after scoring twice against Russia. I never imagined this...”
Portugal winger Be Martins
“Our plan was to win the World Cup, but we have to congratulate Tahiti and forget this defeat on penalties, so that we can focus on the third place game.”
Italy pivot Gabriele Gori
“It was a bad game for us. We thought we’d score a lot of goals, but we couldn’t manage it. Now we want to finish the World Cup with our heads held high.”
Russia winger Alexey Makarov**
Next matchday, Sunday 19 July (all times local)
Match for third place: Italy-Russia (17:00)
Final: Tahiti-Portugal (18:30)