Baku, June 24, AZERTAC
Four of the top five teams in the world will compete for Beach Soccer gold at the Baku 2015 European Games when first round matches begin on Wednesday.
"It is better quality than the World Cup. We have better teams here. Europe is the highest level," said Switzerland head coach Angelo Schirinzi.
Outsiders Italy, Ukraine, Hungary and Azerbaijan – all ranked in the world's top 43 – join Russia (world no.1), Switzerland (no.3), Portugal (no.4) and Spain (no.5), making predictions a dangerous game.
"I am supposed to be an expert of the sport, but I promise you I am unable to make a prediction on who is going to win," said Joan Cusco, vice president of Beach Soccer Worldwide (BSWW) and FIFA beach soccer committee member.
"Not only on who is going to win, but also who is going to be on the podium. I have no idea. They all have a chance."
Despite this uncertainty, Swiss coach Schirinzi is happy to pinpoint Russia as the biggest threats both at Baku 2015 and the Portugal 2015 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in July. He is not going out on too much of a limb though – the Russians are two-time defending World Cup champions, winning in 2011 and 2013.
Schirinzi's own team will be competing on slightly different terms to most of the teams in Baku.
"We were in the final of the World Cup, we won the European League, we won the European Cup but we are not professional. We have a lot of trophies in our room but no money. It is not possible in Switzerland, we don't have enough sponsors," Schirinzi said.
Not that he is complaining.
"It is a motivation to come here and compete with players who are professional on the same level, even if we don't have the same conditions as them."
Schirinzi does also have a potent weapon up his sleeve: 21-year-old Noel Ott, often hailed as the planet's best beach footballer.
"There are similarities to Messi. He is quick, a little bit small. But he is not Messi, he is Noel Ott," Schirinzi said with a laugh.
Host nation Azerbaijan are the outside bet for a medal, with Schirinzi citing the improvements they have made under Portuguese coach Ze Miguel. The former Portuguese star player and long-time manager has been in the role since Baku was awarded the Games in late 2012.
"Our strength is our enthusiasm. We have been training for a year. We are very competitive," Miguel said.
With an average of 8.4 goals per game and the likes of Portugal's two-time World Cup player of the tournament Joao Saraiva (better known as Madjer) and Ott's teammate Dejan Stankovic, a two-time Euro League player of the season, Baku's Beach Arena is the place to be from June 24-28.