Here’s an update on the development of the Bahamas’ Beach Soccer squad as they prepare to host the World Cup in nine months time…
Video credit: TourismTodayBahamas
As part of their preparation for next year’s Beach Soccer World Cup (BSWC), the Bahamas are currently out in Europe on an intense six-week training camp. Over the weekend they participated in the Euro Nations Cup – involving four countries and held in Austria – and lost to the Czech Republic 3-2 on Saturday before beating Slovakia 6-4 on Sunday to take third place. Indeed, they are scheduled to play friendlies against Switzerland, Germany, France and potentially Spain over the coming weeks.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ever since being awarded the 2017 BSWC hosting rights in 2014 – they’re set to become the first Caribbean nation to host a senior FIFA event – the Bahamas have been taking their preparation very seriously with the support of Ministry of Tourism. In March 2015, they reached the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship – losing to Trinidad & Tobago 4-1 – which wasn’t enough for them to make the World Cup that year. Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the USA were CONCACAF’s representatives. In October 2015, the team hosted the Lucayan Cup, a three-team tournament also involving Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago, who recorded two wins on the spin to be crowned overall champions. It’s fair to say that both Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas are the leading Beach Soccer countries within the region, with the pair ranked No.1 and No.2 in the Caribbean respectively. Only four spots separate them in the world rankings.
There was then a break before the squad regrouped in January earlier this year for a three-week training camp with some of the world’s finest Beach Soccer players: Heimanu Taiarui (who is profiled further down), Matteo Marrucci, Sandro Spaccarotella and Noel Ott – otherwise known as the ‘Messi of Beach Soccer’ – as well as Dejan Stankovic, who I’m pretty sure is the Swiss Beach Soccer player and not the former Inter Milan midfielder (there are two Dejan Stankovics). Match action resumed in April as the Bahamas hosted the Kalik Light Cup – in other words, two friendly matches against European opponents Switzerland spread across two days. The hosts lost 13-3 and 9-6 in both matches but the team was more experienced for the second outing, hence the closer scoreline.
And now they’re based in Switzerland for this organised training camp having flown out on 10 July. The Rake ‘n’ Scrape Boys are being coached by Swiss manager Angelo Schirinzi – whose network of contacts likely helped when coming to arrange the training camp – and the aforementioned Taiarui, the reigning Beach Soccer Player of the Year and a Tahiti international. Taiarui has been in charge for several months and oversaw the team’s performances at the Kalik Light Cup. He spoke to the Bahamas FA website shortly after the competition finished. “It was a good opportunity to come here [to the Bahamas] and help the team. I want to help these guys learn what I’ve learned,” the 29-year-old explained. “I want to make the team stronger. They need to train hard, be disciplined and professional. Dedication has to go into it. I want them to show their best – how good they are – and to be the best. Tahiti did it, and it can be done here.”
As many readers will already know, the Caribbean boasts a lot of very impressive beaches. So many islands are advantageously placed when it comes to playing and succeeding in Beach Soccer. “Beach Soccer in the Bahamas costs nothing to play. You go to the beach with a ball,” Taiarui pointed out as part of his Bahamas FA interview. “There’s no excuse.” The majority of the Bahamian squad play on grass, too. There is an overlap between the game played on sand and the game played on grass – for smaller countries such as the Bahamas, that’s kind of an inevitable result of a smaller population compared to some of Europe’s bigger countries.
The side’s captain Gavin Christie has represented Charleston Golden Eagles, the football team for the University of Charleston, as well as semi-professional outfit SK Motorlet Prague in the lower echelons of Czech football. Kyle Williams has played university soccer in America and appeared for Bradenton Academics in the American fourth tier during 2009. Goalkeeper Valin Bodie is a member of Oral Roberts University’s Oral Roberts Golden Eagles.
Haitian-born striker Lesly St Fleur, meanwhile, is contracted to defending Jamaican Premier League champions Montego Bay United. All four players at some point in their careers have donned the Bahamian jersey internationally on grass. There are of course more members of the squad but giving some background information on the above four players at least gives you an indication of what level the team is at.
Obviously hosting the BSWC will be a major operation and plenty of hard work will have to be put in to ensure everything runs smoothly. But it’s worth noting that the Bahamas are no strangers to hosting Beach Soccer events. As mentioned the Lucayan Cup and Kalik Light Cup were held on the islands over the last few months and, in 2013, they were chosen as the location for the CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship. This was the first time a Caribbean nation had hosted the Championship, which featured 10 teams altogether, while the World Cup will encompass 16 teams.
The BSWC will take place in the capital, Nassau, from 27 April to 7 May. The Beach Soccer and Futsal Facility at Malcolm Park will be used as the venue. That has been an extremely useful venue – the first of its kind to be built in the Caribbean – for Beach Soccer ever since it was opened in 2012.
There’s no question that Beach Soccer is growing globally. And the Bahamas are an important part of that.
By Nathan Carr