Women's Beach Soccer: Sun, sea, sand, bicycle kicks and a European Championship

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Meet England's beach soccer team

Sun, sea, sand and skilful players make arguably the perfect kickabout. Add in the dream chance to represent your country and some might say you have the perfect pastime.

But playing beach soccer for England is no holiday, as the national women's team have found out, undergoing training for the first ever Women's Beach Soccer European Championships.

From intensive fitness drills to goalkeepers scoring bicycle kicks and volleys, what exactly is the sport of beach soccer?

Rules that 'encourage skilful, attacking play'

With five players on each team playing over three 12-minute periods, with rolling substitutions, it is a fast-paced game which typically sees plenty of goals scored.

"When you are fouled, the person that was fouled has to take the free-kick and you make a little sandcastle to take the kick from," striker Gemma Hillier told BBC Sport.

"When the ball goes off to the side, you can either take a throw or kick it back in."

England Women's Beach Soccer
England in training at Canford Cliffs beach, Poole, Dorset

Manager Perry Northeast told BBC South Today: "It is physically draining and really demanding. Technically there are many differences.

"There are lots of different laws of the game that encourage the attacking side to come out. It's a very skilful, attack-minded game and the environment it creates is a really good vibe."

Goalkeepers that score volleys

England's main goalkeeper, Lucy Quinn, is also a midfielder at Women's Super League Two club Yeovil Town Ladies, but goalkeepers in beach soccer form a key part of the attack.

But how did a winger end up playing in goal for her country - and scoring?

"It's important in beach soccer that the goalkeeper is really confident and uses their feet a lot," she told BBC Sport. "The goalkeeper can only have it back in their hands once per phase of play.

"We just thought we'd try it out, with me in goal. I'm the one in training that gets in nets and throws myself around. I must have done alright, I suppose.

"We went away to Italy recently and space opened up so I had a few volleys, and scored a couple, which is always good.

"On the sand, you can't really have it on the floor too much. Most of it is up in the air, it's exciting games - volleys, bicycle and diving headers, so the majority of the goals are scored from play up in the air."

Winger Sarah Kempson added: "The keeper is pretty vital, using their feet far more than they do on grass.

"It's quite common for them to flick it up, self-set and shoot, because generally they're unmarked unless you have a pressing player. The keeper is the key player, your anchor of the team."

Carrying the flag

The first ever Women's European Championships for beach soccer, held in Portugal from 29-31 July, involves six international teams.

The England team all train part-time alongside full-time jobs, as well as training for their respective grass football teams. For them, the tournament is a dream chance to fly the national flag.

"It is that amazing feeling, walking out in front of a crowd with the England badge on, that you dream about. We're all lucky to be here and we love it," added Quinn.

England Women's Beach Soccer
England have been drawn in Group B for the European Championships

The team say they have taken inspiration from England's success at the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada, where the Lionesses finished third.

"They did so well and were so inspirational for girls playing any sport, whether it be hockey, rugby or anything else, but particularly being so similar to our sport, we aspire to be as successful as they've been," continued Quinn.

England have been drawn to face Switzerland and Greece, who met during the opening day's play on Friday.

"Switzerland have been our nemesis in a way," added Kempson. "We're yet to beat them. They're probably one of the best teams on sand, both their men and women - despite not having any (coastal) beaches, which is quite strange.

"Greece are a bit of an unknown. They're probably very similar to us, having recently started up.

Group B fixtures
Friday 29 July: Switzerland 7-3 Greece (result)
Saturday 30 July: England v Switzerland
Saturday 30 July: Greece v England
Group A draw: Portugal (hosts), Spain & The Netherlands
Final & play-offs: Sunday 31 July

"Our team started up around four or five years ago and I've been involved for three years. It's really started to take off now, we've been getting some new players in and have really strengthened our side quite a lot this year."

Former Portsmouth Ladies manager Northeast is also part of the England's male beach soccer squad and previously coached many of the current side at Portsmouth.

He led Portsmouth to the Women's Premier League South Division title in 2014-15, narrowly missing out on promotion to the WSL with an extra-time loss to northern champions Sheffield FC in a play-off.

Portsmouth FC Ladies
Portsmouth FC Ladies lost just two regular league games under Perry Northeast in the 2014-15 season

Now he is hoping to guide England's women to success in an international tournament.

"If we can have a good tournament, that can encourage more people to come and play the game, male and female," he said.

"Switzerland are very strong - if not the best in Europe. But we've never played Greece. So it's difficult to predict right now, where we're going to finish, but as long as the players give everything they can, we can have a good tournament.

"We've got plenty of sand experience now and international experience, so we're good enough to do well."

Additional reporting by BBC South Today's Jenna Hawkey.