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23 Feb, 2012 14:26

Russian beach soccer secrets revealed

The captain of the beach soccer World Champions, Russia, Ilya Leonov explained RT how the country hardly renowned for its beaches manage to make such a rapid rise to the top of the sport.

Despite being under a blanket of snow for around six months of the year, Russia has a beach soccer team which is the envy of the world.

While countries like Brazil, Portugal and Spain have all year round access to the beach, it is the Russians who are leading the world, culminating in their World Cup win in Italy last year.

“Brazil were an incredibly strong side five or so years ago,” Ilya Leonov, Russia’s beach soccer captain, told RT. “Over the last couple of years in Russia, a lot of indoor beach soccer stadiums have been built. We now have a number of warm weather training camps abroad and we have caught the rest of the world up and surpassed them.”

Before 2007, Russia had only qualified for the Beach Soccer World Cup on one occasion. However, since then, the country has developed into one of the world's top sides.

And Leonov says that the country’s football governing body should take a lot of credit for the rapid rise.

“Beach soccer has developed in Russia at a phenomenal speed,” he stressed. “The Russian Football Union is right behind us, and has been absolutely fantastic in supporting us. And all this support helped us to be crowned World Champions, which is the highest honor we could win.”

The Russian team has also been helped by having a very stable squad, which is also incredibly talented, for the last five years or so. This so-called "Golden Generation" has grown in strength and confidence over the last few years and a now one of the world's very best beach soccer teams.

The fact that Russia had won the Beach Soccer World Cup was hardly reported in Russia, however, goalkeeper Andrey Bukhlitsky says the team is now getting more coverage in the press.

“With every year, every month and every tournament that passes more people are starting to write about us. But if I am going to be brutally honest, Beach Soccer is a show,” the keeper explained.

Another reason for Russia's rapid rise is the fact that the vast majority of the squad is now professional. Gone are the days when the players would have to work as taxi drivers or managers in order to supplement their income.

Also Russian clubs are able to compete with Europe's very best, while these teams are also importing the best players from countries like Brazil and Portugal, which also helps to raise the level of the sport in the country.“I would say 80 per cent of the Russian squad are professionals and don't work elsewhere,” Leonov said. “The majority of the Lokomotiv squad, which was formed two years ago, also play for the national side.”

The Russian Beach Soccer side is going from strength to strength and is by far the most successful team from the country competing in any worldwide FIFA tournament.

They may not be as famous as their football counterparts, but the likes of Andrey Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko have not won a World Cup yet. And Russia's beach soccer players will be now aiming to retain their world crown in Tahiti next year.