Baku 2015 today held the draw for the Beach Soccer competition at the inaugural European Games.
Robert Prosinečki, who represented Barcelona and Real Madrid during his playing career, and now coaches the Azerbaijani national football team, was joined by FIFA 1998 World Cup and UEFA 2000 European Championship winner Christian Karembeu, who also played for Real Madrid, and now serves as FIFA Beach Soccer Ambassador.
The two football legends made the draw in the presence of national coaches of the qualifying countries, representatives of FIFA and the Azerbaijan Beach Soccer Federation, the Azerbaijani national Beach Soccer team, and Baku 2015 staff.
Mr Karembeu said: “Beach Soccer has all the ingredients to be one of the most entertaining competitions on show in Baku this summer. The fans will love it.
“Baku 2015 will be a wonderful showcase for the sport, and being featured in the first edition of the European Games gives us a high-profile platform to increase interest and participation in Europe and beyond.”
The draw results were as follows:
Group A: Azerbaijan, Portugal, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Group B: Russian Federation, Spain, Italy and Hungary.
The opening match will see Spain play Italy.
Each team will play three matches in the group phase, one against each team in their group. Teams ranked first and second in their group will progress to the semi-finals.
Mr Pierce O’Callaghan, Director of Sport at Baku 2015, said: “As one of four non-Olympic sports at Baku 2015, Beach Soccer is one of the innovations which we are proud to be bringing to the first European Games. Baku 2015 will provide a great platform for new fans to get to know this exciting sport, and as a young and dynamic discipline, it is a perfect fit for the European Games. I have no doubt that Beach Soccer will be a great draw for spectators, and look forward to a wonderful competition this summer.”
Europe is home to some of the world’s best Beach Soccer teams, including reigning world champions and runners-up Russia and Spain, respectively. Russia also took second place in the 2014 Intercontinental Cup, while Portugal finished third.