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HOPES HIGH

BAHRAIN will tomorrow kick off its qualifying campaign for the 2013 Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup.

The kingdom's national beach soccer team represent one of 16 nations that will be going head to head in the Asian qualifiers, which will be played until Saturday at Katara Beach in Doha.

Only the top three teams from the competition will book their tickets to this year's global showcase, which will be held in Tahiti in September.

Bahrain, who in 2006 were the beach soccer champions of Asia, will be aiming to secure their third-ever appearance at the world finals. They were guided to their only two berths in 2006 and 2009 by Brazilian coach Gustavo "Guga" Zloccowick.

Zloccowick has returned recently to try and guide the national team back to the sport's ultimate event, although will have an uphill task with the limited period he has been given for training and the intense competition that lies ahead.

As part of their final preparations for continental qualification, Bahrain scored an impressive 3-0 victory over China yesterday in a friendly match played at the Qatari capital.

The Bahrainis opened their account in the first period, before adding a second in period two and then a penalty in the third and final canto to peg the final score.

Bahrain will be hoping to carry their winning ways into the start of qualifying tomorrow.

The participating squads have been drawn into four groups for the opening phase.

The Bahrainis are in a tough group 'B', where they will have to battle back-to-back Asian champions Japan, Lebanon and Thailand.

Group 'A' comprises Australia, Oman, Afghanistan and tournament hosts Qatar; group 'C' includes former champions the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Palestine; and group 'D' features Iran, Iraq, China and the Philippines.

Only the winning team from each group moves on to the semi-finals.

That puts massive pressure on the Bahrainis, who will have to defeat the highly favoured Japanese to have any shot at making it through to the final four.

Bahrain play Japan in their last group 'B' fixture on Thursday.

On opening day tomorrow, the Bahrainis take on their Lebanese counterparts while Thailand battle Japan. The next day, Bahrain and Thailand face off.

The semi-finals are then scheduled for Friday, and the bronze and gold medal games are set for Saturday. There will also be classification matches on the last two days to determine the official final ranking amongst the 16 countries competing in the Asian qualifiers.

The total number of participants is a record for the event, surpassing the previous mark of 11 teams which competed in the 2011 qualifiers.

The three teams to make it out of Asia will be joined by countries from all over the world in this year's Beach Soccer World Cup.

The tournament's previous edition in 2011 did not feature Bahrain. The nationals made it through to the continental quarter-finals, but bowed to eventual champions Japan 2-6. The Japanese went on to beat Oman in the title game, while Iran joined both finalists as Asian representatives in the world finals.



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