By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
With the development of the sport in the region and the newly constructed beach soccer facility at the foot of the Sir Sydney Poitier Bridge, Enrique Sanz said the Bahamas turned out to be the ideal location to host the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Associaion (CONCACAF) qualifier for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2013.
The CONCACAF qualifier, scheduled for May 8-12, will feature 11 teams with the winners and runners-up advancing to the World Cup that is set for September 18-28 at the To’ata Stadium in Papeete, Tahiti.
The tournament is designed for 5-on-5 competition, but each team is expected to have a minimum of 12 players, including two goalkeepers along with its technical staff and supporters.
“It’s a good thing for CONCACAF to have this tournament here,” said Sanz, the secretary general of CONCACAF. “We’re going into the right direction and we’re happy that the Bahamas Football Federation and the Bahamas Government is hosting us in the tournament.”
This marks the first time that the CONCACAF qualifier/CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship will be held in the Caribbean since its inception in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2005. In the previous five times, Mexico has hosted four in Acapulco (2007) and Puerto Vallarta (2008, 2009 and 2010). The other qualifier was in Puntarenas, Costa Rico, in 2006.
Mexico and El Salvador, the champions and runners-up of the last CONCACAF qualifier respectively, have been placed as the top seeds in Group B and C. By virtue of hosting the tournament, the Bahamas has been given the top seed in Group A.
The official draw to determine where the 11 participating teams - the most ever entered in the qualifier - was held on Tuesday in the Poseidon Room at Atlantis on Paradise Island. The draw was conducted by Enrique Sanz, general secretary of CONCACAF, assisted by ‘Golden Girl’ Eldece Clarke and two members of the Bahamas women’s national beach soccer team - goalkeeper Christabelle Izevbizua and Kate Knight.
For Clarke, it was a welcome sight to be spinning the balls to help determine where the teams ended up in the draw.
“I’m really proud and privileged to be a part of the sports team at the Ministry of Tourism,” Clarke said. “I must say the Bahamas Football Association is doing a good job promoting the Bahamas, bringing the CONCACAF beach soccer here from May 8-14 and the Jamaican Reggae Boyz on May 23 for their match against the Tottenham Hotspur. Sports tourism is moving.”
Joining the Bahamas in Group A are the United States of America, Guatemala and Puerto Rico.
In addition to Mexico in Group B are Canada, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana.
El Salvador will have Costa Rica and Jamaica in Group C.
All of the teams will play a round robin format in their group. Each winner will advance to the semifinals, while the other teams will play for the remaining spots for a ranking from fifth to 11th. The final two finishers will play for the title and eventually advance to the World Cup.
A total of 25 games are expected to be played before the tournament is completed.
Both Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Dr Daniel Johnson and sports director in the Ministry of Tourism, Tyrone Sawyer, all congratulated the Bahamas Football Association on putting on the tournament and they are looking forward to more events in the future.
BFA president Anton Sealy said while this is the first time hosting the tournament, the Bahamas played its first international event in Mexico in 2009 and the national team has been performing ever since and getting better every year.
National team captain Garvin Christie said although the 15-member squad has not been officially announced as yet, he anticipates that the Bahamas will not only be gracious hosts to the visiting teams, but will field a very competitive team with the goal of trying to qualify for the World Cup.
“We are happy to see the group that we have drawn. We think it’s a very positive group for the Bahamas,” he said. “We’ve been training for months and years and I think we’re ready for this opportunity. It helps that we are hosting such a tournament on our home soil. We will have the home crowd behind us, so we are ready to go.”
For the tournament, a specially designed ball depicting the colours of the Bahamian national flag will be used.
And according to Josep Ponset, the head of competitions for Beach Soccer Worldwide, there are expected to be a large number of media personnel and television stations that will be in town to cover the event. He noted that the tournament is expected to be broadcasted live and in delayed broadcast in more than 100 countries in the Middle East, Europe and Central America.
In preparation for the tournament, the BFA will be sending its team off to Brazil on May 1 to compete in a tournament there to get them “battle tested” leading up to the competition against Brazil and Spain, who are among the top three ranked teams in the world.