DUBAI // Around 100 cheering fans gathered at the Umm Sequim Stadium yesterday for the start of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, while a potential audience of millions began watching on television. A lunchtime midweek kick-off made for a low-key opening to the tournament that is being held here for the first time. But as evening approached the temperature dropped and the crowd grew. With 16 teams including a strong UAE side competing for glory over five days of intense competition, world cup fever is set to capture the imagination of the city.
Andy Voruger, from Switzerland, said: "I have never watched beach soccer before but there is a great atmosphere. The music creates a lively mood and I can sense a carnival spirit being created when more people arrive. It is a great opportunity for Dubai to host this event and a great way to spread the game." For many of the crowd it was their first taste of football's newest and most festive format. Colin Watson, 38, a Scot visiting his family in the emirate, said: "I saw an advert and was intrigued. It is a great stadium and the event is well-organised. I'm sure it will be sold out at the weekend. I'm supporting UAE, as the local team, but I hear that Brazil are favourites."
Edward Wilson-Smith, 19, from South Africa, said: "It is a growing sport with many similarities to Rugby Sevens, with short games and the emphasis on entertainment. There is a very good vibe and everyone is enjoying themselves. I'm supporting the Ivory Coast, as a fellow African, but I hope the UAE put in a good display to generate excitement from the home crowd." Each match consists of three, 12-minute periods with five-man teams seeking to keep the ball in the air and set up scoring opportunities. Drama comes from crunching last-ditch tackles and acrobatic bicycle kicks. Soon after play began, the 5,000-seat stadium began to rock with Mexican waves and chants from rival camps.
The Nigeria coach Adamu Ejo said: "It is a very hard game, much more difficult than playing on grass. The level of skill and concentration required is exceptional. In the future the sport will be professional everywhere. It is growing very fast." The beach soccer complex at Umm Sequim is the largest yet created for the sport and the first to feature two separate pitches. It is the first major event organised by the Dubai Sports Council. With television coverage being beamed to 150 countries it is hoped the event will put Dubai on the football map and increase its profile as a tourist destination. According to Mr Ejo, the organisers have more than repaid FIFA's faith in taking the tournament to Asia for the first time with facilities surpassing even those of Brazil, where the sport was invented less than 20 years ago.
The UAE lost 7-5 to Portugal in their opening Group A match. They must beat the Solomon Islands tonight to keep their hopes alive. Meanwhile Brazil beat Nigeria 11-5 last night. email@example.com