Beach soccer world champions Russia are back on the sand to finalize their preparations for the European qualification, which kicks-off in Moscow on Sunday. The hosts are hot favorites to book one of the four places for the 2013 World Cup in Tahiti.
Established in 2005, the Russian beach soccer team have developed into one of the top sides in the sport.
They won every tournament held in 2011, including the World Cup, and seem intent on continuing the trend after adding the European title earlier this year on home sand.
The Red Beach Machine now enters the qualifying tournament for next year's World Cup as red hot favorites to make it to the South Pacific.
“We always aim to win all the tournaments,” Mikhail Likhachev, Russia’s beach soccer coach, told RT. “We hold lots of titles but that's history now. Its sport and we have to prove everything once again.”
24 national teams will take to the sand in Moscow for qualifying, battling for one of the four European, World Cup berths. Russia will face Poland, Germany and Latvia in Group A.
“It's always hard for us to play in front of a home crowd, we feel the pressure and it's hard to relax and show our best,” Ilya Leonov, Russia’s captain, said. “But we still haven't lost a tournament on home turf so hopefully this time around we'll win again.”
Russia can boast a stable squad with defender Leonov and goalkeeper Andrey Bukhlitskiy regarded as two of the best in the game.
Manager Mikhail Likhachev built the side, who reached the top of the sport, but he's still hungry for more.
The team, who on paper look certain to make it to the World Cup, are taking nothing for granted. And success or otherwise parallels with the Russian national football team's performance at Euro 2012 aren't shared.
“We feel the pressure after Russia's poor display at the Euros,” Likhachev stressed. “But I think we can use one Russian character trait – we can perform better as things get worse.”
“Russia's failure really upset us, but we understand its football and anything can happen. If our performance can sweeten the bitterness for all Russian football fans – we'll do our best,” Leonov added.
There's still a long way to go for Russia to retain their world crown in Tahiti next year of course.
But the likelihood is expectations will grow even more as the’ Kings of the Sand’ strive to prove they belong once again at the summit in Moscow on July 1.
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