Los Pynandi Stadium, which has provided the stage for matches during the 2019 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup – Paraguay, was the venue for quite a different event on Wednesday, as more than 200 young boys and girls between 4 and 13 years of age took part in a Beach Soccer Festival organised by the Paraguayan Football Association, with the support of the FIFA Forward Development Programme.
The gathering was overseen by FIFA instructor Marcelo Mendez, who was ably assisted by coaches participating in the Paraguay 2019 Legacy Programme, which runs parallel to the tournament.
“The festival forms part of what we want to leave behind in Paraguay: that boys and girls are familiar with beach soccer, that they start playing it, and that they view it as another sporting activity they can take up,” Mendez said.
Among those in attendance were two players from the Paraguay team that competed in the World Cup, defenders Rodrigo Escobar and Sergio Villaverde.
FIFA Beach Soccer and Futsal Development Manager Brent Rahim pointed out that “this was the first of two festivals that we’ve organised for this age group during the World Cup.”
He added, “It’s an ideal age to lay the foundations in terms of player development, going over some of the essential skills they will need to play elite-level beach soccer in the future, such as bicycle kicks and angled volleys.”
“We came to help and, more importantly, to encourage the kids to enjoy the sport,” said Escobar. “Seeing so many boys and girls playing beach soccer is just fantastic. I’m sure some of them will end up on the national team!”
As far as Mendez is concerned, the players’ presence was vitally important. “It’s great for the kids to have beach soccer idols, who they can see up close and kick a ball around with,” he explained. “That kind of experience has an impact on them and boosts the popularity of the sport.”
The children came from various areas and football academies in Asuncion, as well as from neighbouring towns like Luque, Aregua, Lambare and Villa Elisa.
The activities kicked off early in the morning at the stadium. The boys and girls were taught about some basic concepts related to the sport, after which they were divided into teams and played some matches on the practice fields.
“This is the first time I’ve played beach soccer, and I found it fun but tiring – it’s not easy running on sand,” remarked 12-year-old Sebastian, who had come from the Limpio district with several of his friends.
Enzo, also 12, stated that he would like to play the sport again at some point. “What I liked most was being able to do a few bicycle kicks!” he said, laughing when some of his peers questioned the quality of his attempts.”
Close by, a girl in a yellow t-shirt happened to come off the sand with her sister. “My name’s Jemima, I’m 13 and I live in Asuncion, but I’m Brazilian and I’ve never played beach soccer before,” she said. “It’s been a really nice experience.”