Silhouette Beach Soccer Large BakuPurpleWith innovation, youth and excitement three of the key concepts of Baku 2015, nowhere will these components be better displayed than by a beach soccer showdown bringing a novel version of the world's most popular sport to the iconic beaches of Baku.

Taking place in the Beach Arena at the Flag Square Venues Cluster where beach volleyball will also be held, the competition is set to form a grand finale of the inaugural European Games, taking place over the last five days before a final on August 28, the same day as the Closing Ceremony.

Although football on a beach is a long-standing part of the so called "beautiful game", a pre-requisite for families on holiday as well as for star players honing their craft, the game in a competitive sense has grown only in recent years.

In 1992 the first beach soccer laws were envisioned and a pilot event drawn up in Los Angeles and the following year, the first professional competition was organised over 2,000 miles away on Miami Beach, with teams from the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Italy taking part.

Just two years later, the first Beach Soccer World Championships were held on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, where else, and was won by a Brazilian squad featuring Júnior and Zico, two of the greatest players to ever play the grass version of the game.

The game is now played 170 countries worldwide, making beach soccer one of the fastest growing professional sports. This has been boosted by widespread television coverage and much commercial attention.

Beach soccer may be best associated with locations such as Copacabana Beach, but it has also become a popular European sport ©AFP/Getty ImagesBeach soccer may be best associated with locations such as Copacabana Beach, but it has also become a popular European sport ©AFP/Getty Images

Each team consists of five players, including a goalkeeper and a rolling pool of substitutions. Goal kicks are taken by the goalkeeper using his hands to throw the ball, while shoes are outlawed, although ankle guards are allowed. Throw-ins and kick-ins mean the pace and flow is much faster than regular football, and the smaller pitch also creates a higher scoring game, with a 36-minute match featuring an average of 11 goals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the origins and the name of the sport, there is a distinctly American flavour to some rules of beach soccer, with the game split into three 12-minute "periods", and extra-time following by a sudden death penalty shoot-out meaning there is no possibility of a draw. Rather than the timing being at the discretion of the referee, an "official game clock" also counts down to zero.

Brazil have gone on to win 13 of the 17 editions of the World Championships, which became known as the FIFA World Cup in 2005. But the other four have all been won by countries from Europe: namely Portugal in 2001, France in 2005, and Russia in the two most recent editions in 2011 and 2013.

The sport has been boosted in Europe by the emergence of the Euro Beach Soccer League, and it is the 2014 edition of this annual event which is being used to decide the seven countries who will join host nation Azerbaijan in the men's competition in Baku next year.

At the Euro League Super Finals taking place in the Spanish resort of Torredembarra on August 17, there will be six qualifying positions available. The eight participants will be split into two pools of four, with the top three sides from each pool securing births. A further spot will be available for the winner of the Promotional Final, consisting of countries currently in the second tier of the League.

Russia will be seeking a repeat of their two World Cup victories in Baku ©AFP/Getty ImagesRussia will be seeking a repeat of their two World Cup victories in Baku
©AFP/Getty Images

With three of the four round-robin stages having been completed, Spain, Belarus, Switzerland, Portugal and Italy are among those currently leading the way in the qualification stakes. But, in a fashion which I imagine will become a general theme in Baku next year, you can never write off the Russians, and after an uncertain start the world champions beat Spain 4-1 in a repeat of the 2013 World Cup Final in Moscow last weekend to get back on track. And before you wonder, the Germans are still in contention to qualify as well.

Following the conclusion of the League, governing body Beach Soccer Worldwide will inform the qualifiers in writing on September 30. Each team will then have until October 15 to accept their place.

So beach soccer may be the only event on the programme in Baku where only men's events will feature, but it promises to be an exciting and innovative opportunity for a sport which may one day feature on the Olympic programme.

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