PAPEETE, TAHITI // The two favourites for the Beach Soccer World Cup, Russia and Brazil, got off to winning starts on Day 1 of competition on Thursday.
A Bruno Xavier hat-trick helped Brazil, the 13-times champions, to a 4-1 victory over Asian champions Iran, which put them top of Group C on goal difference.
Senegal beat Ukraine 5-4 in a thriller in the group’s other match, despite a stunning volley from the European side’s goalkeeper, Vitalii Sydorenko.
Meanwhile, Russia, the holders, matched Brazil’s scoreline, beating Japan 4-1 despite being held to a goalless first third.
They sit second in Group D after the tournament began in style with Paraguay’s 10-6 win over Ivory Coast.
It was the South Americans’ first World Cup match but they came up against an Ivory Coast side who had only one reserve player available because of visa issues.
Today, the other two groups in the tournament are in action.
After losses for Iran and Japan, the UAE will hope to get a win for Asia on the board when they take on hosts Tahiti (9am UAE time) on Friday.
Tahiti, minnows of beach soccer, are enjoying the limelight as the squad have become instant celebrities in their home country.
“It is amazing,” said Naea Bennett, who has been a prominent feature on local promotional material.
“We are very happy to have this World Cup here in Tahiti and we hope to be ready for our country and our people.
“I don’t think I’m a local star, we just try to do our best to make our people happy. It is a good privilege for us to be in this position.
“It is a dream for us to play in a [beach soccer] World Cup and now it is my second time. This is really amazing we are very proud to be here at home facing the best players in the world.”
Tahiti’s football team were a feel-good story at the summer’s Confederations Cup in Brazil, despite losing heavily in their three games.
Bennett said the beach soccer team were enjoying their chance to make some headlines.
“When we are in town, everyone is behind us and say ‘we are with you’,” he said. “We have never had this before with local people and this gives us strength. It is great for us to have this opportunity before the end of our careers.”