The CAF Beach Soccer Africa Cup of Nations 2016 will have a distinct feeling of familiarity to it after seven of the eight teams that competed in the competition last time around also qualified for this year's finals after this past weekend of second leg action.
Of the 14 teams that entered the race for Nigeria, three withdrew before a ball was kicked, giving the North African trio Morocco, Egypt and Libya a bye into the finals. That still left four ties that needed to be finalised this weekend, and they all saw convincing victories, as Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana and Madagascar joined the North Africans and the hosts Nigeria.
The defending champions Madagascar, who had to dig deep in their first leg against Mozambique to eek out a 3-2 victory, had a much smoother ride in the return leg in Mahajanga winning 6-2, for a convincing 9-4 aggregate victory. The Barea called on a number of players who have the experience of having played at the Nations Cup and the World Cup and the likes of Pierralit Tovonay, Tianasoa Rabehasimbola, Jhorialy Rafalimanana and Toky Randriamampandry gave the Mozambicans no chance.
West Africans set to make their mark
Unlike Madagascar, who struggled away from home, Ghana's Black Sharks had already done most of the work away to Kenya and the home leg in the Laboma Beach Soccer Arena on the outskirts of Accra was a similarly one-sided affair, with the west Africans adding a 7-1 scoreline to the 10-3 from the first leg.
Even though Kenyan officials had boldly declared before the game that they were still in with a fighting chance, the Sand Stars spent most of the match with their back pressed to their goal. With beach soccer being the fastest-growing sport in Ghana, a good crowd turned out to see their team seal qualification.
Although Senegal went into their return leg against Cape Verde Islands with a five-goal cushion following their 7-2 win on the road, coach Ngalla Slla warned his players before their game not to take anything for granted. "Five goals is not much in beach soccer, so we will try to keep a positive mindset,'' he said.
The former international, who is a three-time winner of the competition (2008, 2011 and 2013) need not have worried about his players as they went to work from the start and never allowed the visitors a sniff of a miraculous come-back. In the end a convincing 5-2 victory – with Mohamed Francois Diouf scoring a hat-trick, with the others being scored by Mamadou Sylla and Babacar Fall – gave them a 12-4 aggregate victory.
The final team to book their ticket to Nigeria is Côte d'Ivoire, who took on Tanzania for a place at the finals. Like their east African rivals Kenya, Tanzania were optimistic that they could still overturn a huge deficit from the first leg, but just like their neighbours, they were never in with a chance.
Although Tanzania, who were strengthened by the inclusion of veteran stars Juma Kaseja and Mohamed Banka for the return leg, played much stronger in Côte d'Ivoire, pulling back a four-goal deficit was too tall an order and the hosts added a 6-4 victory to their 7-3 from the first leg.