- Abu Azeez is one of the pioneers of Nigeria beach soccer
- Ready to be a leader for the Super Sand Eagles at Paraguay 2019
- "When everyone is down, you have to be up"
When Abu Azeez took to the pitch at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009, it felt like he was dreaming. By far the youngest player in the Nigeria team at just 15-years-old, earlier that year he had played beach soccer for the very first time.
Ten years later, he’s back and in a vastly different place as he prepares for the Beach Soccer World Cup in Paraguay as the second-oldest player in the Nigeria squad.
“I used to look up to senior players and veterans but now 95 per cent of the team are looking up to me and hoping to learn from me,” Azeez told FIFA.com from Asuncion. “I have so many responsibilities now—it’s a big difference than ten years ago.”
Azeez, who is the first Nigerian to score 100 goals for the national team, is getting his team ready to face Portugal, Oman and holders Brazil in Group D.
“I enjoy being a leader, but it’s not as easy as I thought,” he said. “When everyone is down, you have to be up. I enjoy it because I’m growing as a man. When I stop playing, the lessons I’ve learned from here will transfer into my life in general, and it will help me a lot. Players have different attitudes and qualities and you need to cope with everyone.”
Positional evolution and tactical flexibility
Early in his career Azeez was a point man, with the more experienced players behind him, but he’s had to adapt his game to be more versatile. Now his role is to orchestrate play from deep positions, ready to play anywhere that the Super Sand Eagles need.
“I’ve learned all about positioning from the Brazilians like Benjamin, Bruno Malias and Buru—they don’t have a specific position, but they attack and defend; that’s the best way to play beach soccer.”
The captain of the Super Sand Eagles is a real student of the game. He regularly watches live streams of other tournaments around the world and sends clips to his team-mates to study and to instruct them on specific tactical points.
“We need to be extremely smart to overcome these teams. If we utilise our strengths and take our chances, we should surpass our performance in the Bahamas in 2017.”
Azeez's hopes for the future of Nigerian beach soccer
At the last World Cup, Nigeria failed to get out of their group. But Azeez, who is a Beach Soccer Worldwide Ambassador and passionate about developing the game for both men and women back home, is encouraged by his young team after a successful Copa Lagos a couple weeks ago, where they defeated Brazil and England.
However, it is a team that won’t be present in Paraguay that Azeez looks up to for inspiration and sets as an example for Nigeria beach soccer to emulate.
“We played against IR Iran in 2017," he said. "They were not as special or as skilful as the Brazilians or the Italians, but they play as a compact team and they understood themselves well. They play as a team and have a lot of continuity. I want Nigeria beach soccer to get to that level. I want us to have continuity and to continue building. I want us to dominate beach soccer tournaments all over the world.”
IR Iran finished with the bronze medal in 2017, and only missed out on making the final after a narrow penalty shootout-defeat by Tahiti. If Azeez and Co follow in Team Melli’s footsteps, they could be making history for their country on the Asuncion sand.