Semi-finals promise to be sizzlers
Pattaya: After 25 matches, just four teams remain in contention at the AFC Beach Soccer Championship Thailand 2019, with two mouth-watering semi-finals in prospect on Friday.
Palestine will be chasing history when they play Japan, while United Arab Emirates are set to meet Oman, with the winners sealing a title showdown, and qualification to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Paraguay this November.
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UAE v OMAN, 17:00 local time
Oman may have two shots at World Cup qualification in their hands, but head coach Talib Hilal insists he wants his side to stamp their ticket to Paraguay at the first time of asking, before turning his attention to becoming Asian champions.
"We want to go to the World Cup from the beginning, not wait for the second chance, because you never know what can happen," said Hilal, after his side beat Bahrain 5-3 in the quarter-finals
Oman have won all three matches in Pattaya, including a 4-3 triumph against 2019 champions Islamic Republic of Iran, and are now well and truly in the conversation to lift the trophy come Sunday's final, but Hilal insisted his focus starts and ends with Friday's test.
"We have 24 hours to prepare for tomorrow's match, and I hope we'll be ready because if we win tomorrow we're already in the World Cup," he said.
"It's a very, very important match. We have one and a half chances. If you win, you're in the World Cup. If you lose, you wait for third position, so we are totally focused on tomorrow's match."
UAE cruised into the last four with an 8-1 defeat of Malaysia, taking their tournament record to four wins from as many matches, and having scored 23 goals while conceding just six.
Despite the relative ease of their advance to the semi-finals, head coach Mohamad Almaazmi said his side are battle hardened, and ready to play in the pressure cooker atmosphere.
"I give each match in this tournament all my power, everything. I respect all the teams. I had four matches, and all our opponents were strong. Now I give all my focus on the semi-final," he said.
"I know about the Oman team. I think this will be such a strong, tough game, and I hope God will be with us in this game."
PALESTINE v JAPAN, 19:00 local time
Still coming to terms with his side's dramatic comeback win against Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan head coach Ruy Ramos said he is hoping for a less stressful day in the office than the one he encountered on Thursday.
Japan were 2-0 down against the defending champions, but they rallied to force extra-time, before claiming a priceless victory in extra-time to keep their hopes of becoming champions alive, and prevent a first World Cup absence in well over a decade.
"One thing I would say, since being in charge for the last year, we never had a friendly match with an opponent as tough (as Iran) and in our plans we thought we would meet Iran in the final, after we had booked our World Cup ticket," said the former J League star.
"In the history of beach soccer there are several key countries like Oman, UAE, Japan, Iran and Bahrain who have been leading the way.
"When we played Iran there was a high level of tension, so maybe tomorrow there will be less tension. I'm hoping there will be less tension."
Japan have just 24 hours to refocus ahead of Friday's semi-final against a Palestine side which has defied expectations to win all four matches; with their 4-3 semi-final win over Lebanon perhaps the most remarkable success of all.
Palestine weren't even part of the competition in Malaysia two years ago, but they now potentially stand just 36 minutes away from a World Cup - something all the more extraordinary when considering their lead-up to the tournament.
"This team is from players in many football clubs inside Gaza. The head coach (Imadeldeen Hashim) and the technical staff chose some players from each club and recruited them and made them a beach soccer team, " goalkeeping coach Talal Al Nems explained.
"They trained for a week, not on a special field, just on the beach by the sea.
"When we left from Palestine through Egypt, we spent five nights in the Cairo airport because of some missing document on the Egyptian side. Then we came here to represent Palestine, and we insist on winning.
"We are here not just to participate, we want to fly the Palestine flag here, and we have a dream to reach the final match and win the competition."
Palestine have never participated in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, a dream that will come to life should the West Asians win on Friday, or claim third place on Sunday.
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