Update Post: December 9, 2023 9:39 am
Beach soccer in Russia is rightly considered one of the most beloved sports that are not included in the Olympic program. This is not surprising, because our national team comes as a favorite in any international competition: in the last 15 years it has won three world championships and many other tournaments, and Russian clubs have also achieved great international victories.
How did our country succeed in beach soccer?
Let’s look at the main success factors.
First victories. future stars
Beach soccer first attracted the attention of Russian sports fans in 2005; then former Spartak player Nikolai Pisarev formed the first national team. One part of the team consisted of their star teammates in grass performances: Karpin, Mostovoy, Ledyakhov, Kiryakov, Popov, and the other part were young people who had already played football on the arena at an amateur level. Among them were, in particular, Ilya Leonov, who is now the head coach of the Lokomotiv beach soccer club, and Alexander Alaev, who is vice-president of the Russian Football Union and heads the Russian football Premier League.
In the first international tournament, which took place in Spain, they did not achieve success: the team won only one match. But they decided to develop the youth sport even further: on the one hand, the RFU began to provide support to the Russian national team, on the other, the World Beach Soccer Organization proposed to hold a major international tournament in Moscow – the European Cup – 2005.
In the Russian capital, among the representatives of great football, only Dmitry Popov jumped into the arena. And the core of the team consisted of young people who played beach soccer: Ilya Leonov, Anton Shkarin, Egor Shaikov, Andrey Bukhlitsky. And they did not disappoint: in the semi-finals, with the stands full, they beat the formidable Portuguese team 5-3. In the final, Russia lost to Switzerland, but the silver was also a success.
The victory over Portugal gave a strong boost to the development of beach soccer in our country. The Russian national team became a regular participant in international tournaments and quickly reached the strongest division of the Euroleague, where it took third place twice in a row, and on the third attempt, in 2009, beat the same Portuguese in the final. . , they won their first title. There was notable progress in the country: the national championship became regular and the level of competition grew steadily.
Beach soccer in Russia was gaining strength and popularity, but in 2010 changes occurred that led to real progress.
Stars in Russia. Professional approach
There were two key changes. The first thing happened in the national team: a young coach, Mikhail Likhachev, who worked as an assistant to Nikolai Pisarev, took command of the team. Over the next 10 years, he will make two revolutions in world beach soccer: significantly speeding up the game through quick substitutions and transforming the goalkeeper from a simple defender into an attacking and scoring player. Ten years later, all the best teams in the world will actively use these tactical discoveries of Likhachev, but in 2010 it was difficult to imagine such changes and the novice specialist simply had a chance.
The second important change occurred in the Russian Championship. A new club appeared on the national scene: Lokomotiv Moscow, which in just one year literally became the best in the country.
“In 2010, I never dreamed that the Russian beach soccer team would become world champions,” recalls Lokomotiv president Vitaly Pogodin, who created the club 13 years ago, “but even then it was clear that the team’s victories were for us the most important thing”. The important thing, because they are the ones who give development to our sport. I have never shared the victories of the national team and the Club, we worked mainly to bring laurels to Russia. “It is gratifying that Lokomotiv Beach is associated with the victories of the national team.”
Lokomotiv, which had significant resources at its disposal, quickly assembled a top-level team, which included almost all of the country’s top players, and became the base club of the national team. The following players played for him: Ilya Leonov, Andrey Bukhlitsky, Egor Shaikov, Yuri Gorchinsky, Anton Shkarin, Alexey Makarov, Yuri Krasheninnikov, Dmitry Shishin; All of them later became global beach soccer stars.
From 2010 to 2014, Lokomotiv won three gold medals at the Russian Championship, three national cups, the Club World Cup and the European Cup. And the Russian team has two World Cups, three Euroleagues, two Intercontinental Cups and a European Cup. And such a coincidence between the two teams’ good times is not accidental. Loko and the national team were a single entity in those years of great victories.
Loko became the world’s first professional beach soccer club. At Lokomotiv we created a system, the players trained and received salaries not only in the summer season but also in the winter season. Therefore, they were able to leave work outside of work and focus on important sports, and stability appeared. And stability in sports is very important. So we brought together almost all the stars of the club and in the end we got results,” recalls the club’s vice president, Lev Mazaraki.
Lokomotiv attracted the best foreign players in the world to its squad. The team’s colors were defended by the Swiss Dejan Stankovic, the Portuguese Madjer, the Brazilian Fernando, and in beach soccer, these were stars of the level of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo!
“In those years a real world team played for us. Everyone asks: why is Russian beach soccer the best in the world? Yes, because we had the best players in the world. Not only at Lokomotiv, but also at our other clubs. That is why the Russians are not afraid of anyone: neither the Brazilians nor the Spanish. They are in the same locker room as the best players in the world in the Russian championship, why be afraid of them? This is important both from a psychological and football point of view: we know what these foreign players can do on the field, what to expect from them,” says Vitaly Anatolyevich Pogodin about one of the reasons for Russia’s success.
In the 2010s, Lokomotiv acquired the status of one of the leaders of world beach soccer. The Russian club became a permanent participant in the Mundialito, where it fought on equal terms with Barcelona, Sporting, Corinthians and other star clubs. And they won this tournament three times: Loko was the strongest in 2012, 2017 and 2021.
“Lokomotiv then became a big beach soccer brand. Everyone understood that if our team did not attend some international tournament, then it would no longer be a top-level tournament,” says Lev Mazaraki.
The best game in history. A look to the future
The systematic approach to beach soccer at Lokomotiv, together with Likhachev’s coaching talent, allowed the brilliant generation of our players to achieve victories that fans still remember. On September 11, 2011, the Russian beach soccer team confidently defeated the almost invincible Brazil with a score of 12:8 in the World Cup final. This match is considered by many beach soccer fans to be the best in the history of the national team.
Defending a title is always more difficult than winning it once, but the Russian team coped with this difficult task. In the 2013 World Cup final, our team defeated Spain and won the second cup.
“These historic victories of the Russian national team were the fruit of the complex and large-scale work we have carried out in Russian beach soccer for several years. At that time, our young footballers had become world stars, they knew how to win, they knew how to do it, they had a lot of experience in the Russian national team and Lokomotiv. Hence these results,” says Lev Mazaraki.
The third title had to wait eight years, but it was won on the home arena: the 2021 World Championship was held in Moscow. In the final, the Russian team defeated Japan in front of full stands.
“You can’t imagine how difficult it was to hold the World Championship in Moscow in 2021. We are at the very peak of the pandemic. From an organizational point of view, incredible efforts were made, but they paid off. There were so many situations where the tournament had to be postponed or moved, but everything went well. Thanks to the joint work of the Russian Football Union and the Russian government, the tournament took place. Due to coronavirus restrictions, only 500 people were allowed in in the first matches, but by decision of the Moscow government the stadium was opened to spectators and in the decisive matches the full stands applauded our team.” – recalls Vitali Pogodin.
In the two years since the World Cup in Russia, the situation has changed. Politicians have intervened in this sport and, for the moment, representatives of Russian beach soccer, current world champion, cannot compete on the international stage. However, Russian beach soccer, even under sanctions, does not stand still.
In 2023, the Moscow International Beach Soccer Cup was held for the second time in Moscow, in which the best teams from Russia, Iran, Belarus, Kazakhstan and even African countries participated: in 2022 a club from the Seychelles competed, and in 2023 m – from Senegal. The sports organizer of the tournament was PFC Lokomotiv, which remains the engine of the growth of Russian beach soccer.
“I am optimistic about the future. We were able to maintain relationships with the World Beach Soccer Organization, a strong national team and a high level of competition in the national championship. We continue to develop, we have many talented young people who will now have more playing time and in the future will be able to adequately represent the country in international competitions.
Our partners abroad understand that there is not enough competition with Russia. Therefore, as soon as the opportunity arises, we will return to the world stage and we will be ready for it,” Lev Mazaraki is sure.
In the last almost 20 years, Russia has made amazing progress in beach soccer. And it is clear that numerous cups and victories are not a coincidence, but the result of clear and systematic work to obtain results.
And this important work continues.