The word “dynasty” tends to get mentioned whenever a team wins one trophy after another, which is exactly what Russia’s all-conquering national beach soccer side have done in recent years.
Yet, in their particular case their standing and reputation in the sport are founded on more than just the titles they have been stringing together.
The reigning two-time world champions exert a direct influence on the way the game is now being played around the world, particularly in one specific area: set-pieces.
“The expertise Russia have shown at dead-ball situations at the last two World Cups, especially corner kicks, throw-ins and kick-ins, has forced teams around the world to practice defending them more and to also come up with their own routines,” Brazilian coach Gustavo Zloccowick told FIFA.com.
A member of the FIFA Technical Study Group analysing the action at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015, Zloccowick added: “These types of plays accounted for half the goals the Russians scored in winning their two world titles. And their quarter-final defeat of Brazil here (a 6-5 victory secured in extra time) was another good example. Five of their six goals came from set-pieces.
So what do the Russians do to keep their attacking machine so well oiled? In answering that question, their coach Mikhail Likhachev told FIFA.com: “It all comes down to an awful lot of work. Having a strong domestic league also helps.”
As Likhachev went on to explain, he spends a lot of his time watching videos of opposing teams, though he was reluctant to provide any details on the work he does in dissecting their games: “That’s a Russian secret,” he said with a broad smile.
The only Brazilian currently playing in the Russian league, with Kristall of St Petersburg, Bruno Xavier is well qualified to discuss the key to the world champions’ set-piece success: practice.
“Five of the Russia squad are my team-mates and I see what they do: they practice set-pieces more than they do open play. That’s why they’re always looking for corners, kick-ins and throw-ins,” said the Brazil star, the winner of the adidas Golden Ball at Tahiti 2013.
“Junior Negao (the Brazil coach) warned us about it but they’re too strong,” he added. “With them, it’s just one set-piece after another. They keep on taking them because sooner or later they know there’s going to be a defensive mistake.
“If you switch off for a second when you’re marking man to man, then it’s fatal. When they spot that error, they pounce. Then there’s the fact that they’re also very good at executing set pieces.”
So is there anything that can be done to blunt the threat posed by such well-rehearsed routines?
“There’s no formula, because every team sets their defence up depending on who the opposition are,” replied Zloccowick. “In general, though, teams tend to combine zonal and man-to-man marking, with two of the outfield players occupying specific areas of the pitch and the other two picking up opposing players.”
He added: “The key is to be on your guard because Russia have the ability to repeat the same move over and over again until they find a chink in your defence, which is all they need to score.
“The fans might watch them and think that there’s luck involved when the ball reaches one of their players, but when you watch them closely you know that it’s a move they’ve practised so many times before.”