Iran underlined their pedigree as the top-ranked side in Asia by claiming their second AFC Beach Soccer Championship title with victory over United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Saturday’s final. Both teams secured two of Asia’s three qualifying spots for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Bahamas 2017 by reaching the final. Japan joined their Middle Eastern counterparts in claiming their ticket to the Caribbean by finishing third at Malaysia 2017.
As newly-crowned Asian champions, Iran will play Mexico, Italy and Nigeria in Group B at the Beach Soccer World Cup. As runners-up at Malaysia 2017, UAE will take their place alongside Paraguay, Panama and Portugal in Group C at the world finals. By earning the third and final spot in Asian qualifying, Japan will play Poland, Tahiti and Brazil in Group D at Bahamas 2017.
FIFA.com rounds up all the action from seven days of competition on the beach sands of Pantai Batu Buruk in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia.
The group phase
Group A: 1. Iran, 12 points; 2. Bahrain, 9 pts; 3. Afghanistan, 6 pts; 4. Malaysia, 3 pts; 5. China PR, 0 pts
The Iranians made easy work of their four matches to cruise to the semi-finals as winners of Group A, outscoring the opposition 35 to three in the process. Mohammad Hossein Mirshamsi’s side started their campaign with a 14-0 thumping of tournament hosts Malaysia before earning results against Afghanistan (6-1), China PR (10-0) and Bahrain (5-2). Leading the way for Iran was Mohammadali Mokhtari, who scored eight of his tournament-leading 12 goals during the group stage.
Group B: 1. Lebanon, 6 points; 2. Oman, 3 pts; 3. Thailand, 0 pts
The last-minute withdrawal of Uzbekistan from Malaysia 2017 put the onus on the remaining three teams in Group B to try and win both of their group matches in order to advance to the last four. After both sides claimed victories over Thailand, Oman and Lebanon squared off in the group decider. In a dramatic contest, the Lebanese ended Oman’s reign as Asian champions with a 4-3 victory. Ahmed Grada’s header three seconds from the end secured top spot in the group for Lebanon.
Group C: 1. UAE, 9 points; 2. Japan, 6 pts; 3. Iraq, 1 pt; 4. Qatar, 0 pts
UAE and Japan found the back of the net with regularity in Group C, as both teams proved too strong for Iraq and Qatar. The Emiratis opened their account with a 6-0 win over Iraq before easing past Qatar 8-1. The Japanese were even more prolific in front of goal, thrashing the Qataris 14-0 and the Iraqis 11-2. That set up a group decider between UAE and Japan, and it was the Middle Eastern nation that triumphed 5-4 to win Group C and advance to the semi-finals. Despite the defeat, Japan also advanced to the last four as the best second-best finisher in the group stage.
The first two qualifying places for Bahamas 2017 were up for grabs in the semi-finals on 10 March, and the day’s action started with a penalty shoot-out victory for UAE over Lebanon following a 4-4 extra-time draw. Haitham Mohamed and Hasham Al Muntaser both converted their penalties to give the Emiratis a 2-1 win in the shoot-out and secure their nation’s fifth berth at a Beach Soccer World Cup with a place in the final.
Iran followed UAE in assuring they would be making the trip to the Caribbean next month by outlasting Japan 8-6 in an entertaining back-and-forth contest. Mokhtari, Hassan Abdollahi and Mohammad Ahmadzadeh each scored twice for the Iranians, as they advanced to Saturday’s final and claimed their country’s seventh berth at a Beach Soccer World Cup.
The final day of action on 11 March saw the two losing semi-finalists in Lebanon and Japan contest the final qualifying berth for the Bahamas in the match for third place. Led by four goals from Takasuke Goto, Japan defeated Lebanon 6-3 to finish third at Malaysia 2017 and earn a ninth straight berth at beach soccer’s showpiece event. Only Brazil and Japan have appeared at every Beach Soccer World Cup since 2005.
The last match of the competition crowned a new Asian champion, and it was Iran that capped an excellent campaign with a sixth straight victory, as they defeated UAE 7-2 in the final. Moslem Mesigar had two goals for the Iranians, as did Mokhtari, who capped a fine tournament for himself by not only claiming the honour as top goalscorer, but also being named the tournament’s top player.
2. United Arab Emirates*
*Qualified for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Bahamas 2017
Player of the tournament
Mohammadali Mokhtari (Iran)
Fair Play Award
Mohammadali Mokhtari (Iran) – 12 goals