Monday 19 December 2016, 17:41

Senegal back to winning ways

West Africa regained their dominance of the CAF Beach Soccer Championship, as Senegal defeated the hosts Nigeria in the final on Sunday to win their fourth African title. However, there was some consolation for the hosts, as they will join the champions at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Bahamas 2017.

There was disappointment for North African teams Egypt and Morocco, who were hoping to become the first non-sub Saharan teams at the global event. However, after qualifying for the semi-finals, both fell short in the round of the last four and had to make do with the play-off match, which Egypt won comfortably 4-1. reviews the action.

The qualifiers Having represented their continent at four Beach Soccer World Cup finals, but missing out on the last two in 2013 and 2015, the Super Sand Eagles were determined to not only put on a great competition for the seven other finalists. Their goal was – at worst – to make the final, thereby winning one of the tickets on offer for the showpiece event in the Bahamas. Nigeria coach Ejoor Adamu was given the best-possible assistance for his preparations a few days before the start of the tournament. The hosts were involved in a friendly against Switzerland, who are one of the four European representatives at next year's Beach Soccer World Cup. Although Nigeria lost that game 8-3, they went into the African championships full of confidence, with captain Isiaka Olawale saying at the time that they were ready for the finals. “For us, that is the main competition and it is our goal to qualify for the World Cup.”

Their start into the tournament was anything but inspiring and a hard-fought 3-2 victory against Egypt was followed by a shoot-out defeat against Côte d'Ivoire after a 4-4 draw. This put the Super Sand Eagles into a difficult spot ahead of their final game in the group stage against local rivals Ghana. A strong defensive display, which kept the Ghanaian forward line at bay throughout the final third, saw the hosts win 4-3 to set up a semi-final clash against Morocco. The other team to advance to the semi-final round from the group was Egypt, who won their decisive match against Côte d'Ivoire 4-2.

In Group B, the defending champions Madagascar, who won the tournament on home beaches last time around, started strongly but then ran out of steam. The islanders won their opening game against Libya 9-5, but were then beaten 3-1 by Senegal, the team they had won against in the final last year. This put them in a must-win situation against Morocco in their final game. Yacine Benmamma and Nassim El Hadaoui gave the North Africans an early two-goal cushion, but when Ymelda Razafimandimby pulled one back, it was game on. Though both sides looked for more goals, it was not to be and Morocco won the low-scoring match 2-1 to book their place in the semi-finals.

Senegal, on the other hand, had a much smoother ride into the last four, being the only team in the competition to win their three group games. Morocco proved to be their most difficult opponent, as the Lions of Teranga had to work hard for their 2-1 win. Their 3-1 victory against Madagascar was a stronger performance and they went into their final match knowing that they had already made sure of a place in the semi-finals ahead of their game against Libya. However, this did not mean they held back and, at the end of the three period, the scoreline read: Senegal 10 Libya 2, with Lansana Diassy top scoring for his side with three goals.

The aspirants The semi-finals were two west versus north matchups, with the West African teams winning both encounters. Nigeria finally found their rhythm against Morocco – their victory never in doubt in a 6-1 win. One of the players who found his form in the game was Abu Azeez, who earlier this year was involved in Enyimba's CAF Champions League campaign. The striker scored two for his side. In the other semi-final, Senegal proved too strong for Egypt, winning 5-2. The West Africans quickly grabbed a four-goal lead before allowing their opponents to dream of a spectacular comeback with two goals to cut the deficit to two. Babacar Fall, however, ended any hope Egypt had of coming back with his third goal of the game to send Senegal through to the final.

Fall scored two again, as Senegal, who with their opponents are the only African teams to have escaped the group stages at a Beach Soccer World Cup, were challenged by a strong Super Sand Eagles. It was only in the final third that the Lions of Teranga managed to put some distance between themselves and the hosts, as they moved from 4-4 to 8-4, with Ngalla Sylla scoring twice to take his tally for the match to three. Nigerian coach Adamu was gracious in defeat. “I can't take anything away from the Senegalese. They played well. But I am still satisfied with my side's performance. They tried their best and we qualified for the World Cup finals.”

Egypt finished third after a 4-1 win against Morocco. The defending champions Madagascar managed to salvage some pride with a 4-3 victory against Côte d'Ivoire in the play-off for fifth place, having earlier beaten Ghana 8-4 in the play-off semi-finals. Disappointingly, Libya withdrew from the competition after losing their three group games, which gave Côte d'Ivoire a bye into the play-off, while Ghana were denied the opportunity to play their final game.

Final standings 1 Senegal 2 Nigeria 3 Egypt 4 Morocco 5 Madagascar 6 Côte d'Ivoire 7 Ghana 8 Libya Qualified for Bahamas 2017*

Most Valuable Player Emeka Ogbonna (Nigeria) Best Goalkeeper Award Al Seyni Ndiaye (Senegal) Top Scorer Babacar Fall (Senegal) – 11 goals