You could take a hundred guesses and probably never settle on Abu Azeez as the guy with the most goals for a Nigerian national football team. But that precisely is what he is – the highest ever goal-scorer for any Nigerian national football team whose four-goal haul in the 7-6 victory over Egypt in the semi-final of the 2018 CAF Beach Soccer African Cup of Nations took his goal tally for the Sand Eaglesto 103 goals.
It seems such a preposterous total – 103 – and one the 24-year-old certainly couldn’t have envisaged in his wildest dreams back in 2009 when he made his debut for the Sand Eagles. Abu has come a long way since then and is unarguably Nigeria’s biggest Beach Soccer star, certainly the most popular with a notable social media presence.
As the adulation comes thick and fast for the Rangers International of Enugu player for being the first Nigerian to hit a century of goals for a national team, Azeez who says he is “very very happy for this achievement” is quick to point out that none of this would have been possible without the help of his teammates and coaches even as he aims to continually perform at his optimum.
“It is actually a great feat for me,” says Azeez to busybuddiesng.com about getting a century of goals for the Sand Eagles.
“I really thank my teammates, my coaches, my management for helping me get to that level and scoring a hundred goals because if not for my teammates I don’t think I would have been able to get to that level at all so I thank all my teammates for the support and I’ll try as much as possible to continue giving my best as long asI’m playing.”
Victory over the Egyptians, hosts of the 9th edition of the CAF Beach Soccer AFCON, meant
Securing a World Cup berth was nothing short of miraculous, considering how shabby their preparations were in the lead up to the AFCON was.
The Beach Soccer national team has always figured way down the scale of the Nigeria Football Federation’s (NFF) affections. In fact, if the Super Eagles are the darling child of the Federation and the Falcons an unplanned-for child who is merely tolerated, the Sand Eagles seem more like an illegitimate product of a drunken liaison whose very existence only acts as a shameful reminder to the Federation about a mistake that never should have happened. They are certainly treated that way.
Azeez though, says the players were always focused on securing a World Cup place, in spite of the shabby preparations and the lack of faith many Nigerians had on the basis of their ill-preparedness although he feels the team needs more quality ahead of the World Cup.
“All the players that came to this tournament came with one intention and the intention is to qualify to go to the World Cup in Paraguay in 2019 and we are very happy we’ve gotten to this level it means that every player on this team [is] very important,” he says.
“Right now in as much as we still need to add some more great players to the team when we are going to the World Cup, I still feel the players that have made the trip they’ve really done well for themselves and for the country because 90% didn’t even give us a chance or an opportunity to even get to this level but we tried our possible best to continue giving our best because it wasn’t even easy we had no time to even train or to be in camp at all but getting to Egypt we realised that we could do it and that was exactly what we did.”
They started off on a shaky note with a loss to defending champions Senegal who they will be facing in today’s final but Azeez who is second on the goal-scorers chart with seven goals says the loss didn’t shake the team’s resolve to achieve World Cup qualification.
“Immediately after our first game against Senegal we lost narrowly on penalties, we called ourselves we talked to ourselves we realised that we can do it and it is nothing than for us to just put in more effort than what we’ve been doing before and that was exactly what we did.
“The commitment was there, the level of discipline was there and a little bit of luck we really thank God and I want to thank all my colleagues for achieving this.”
The Sand Eagles will definitely require all the commitment and discipline they can muster if they are to avenge that opening game defeat to Senegal in Friday’s final and earn a third continental title at the expense of the defending champions.
Senegal with four Beach Soccer AFCON titles is the most successful Beach Soccer team on the continent and whilst both teams have developed an intense rivalry over the years, the Senegalese boast a better finals record against Nigeria having beaten the Sand Eagles in two out of three finals most recently in 2016 when Nigeria hosted the tournament.
Nigeria’s sole finals victory over Senegal was in 2006 on their way to a maiden continental triumph and the Sand Eagles would look to follow the example of the Super Falcons who defeated South Africa in the final of the 2018 Women’s AFCON having lost to the South Africans in their opening group game.
Having got this far, Azeez says the players would look to match their performance in the semi-final victory over hosts Egypt in the final against Senegal and would leave “no stone unturned” in their bid for victory.
“The same effort we put in when we were playing the semi-final is actually the same effort we will put in playing in the final match,” Azeez says about how the team plans to approach Friday’s final.
“I believe whatever comes out we will take it like that but I don’t think we are leaving any stone unturned. We will try as much as possible to put in our best so we can win the trophy because that is actually another step and we are actually taking a game at a time so by God’s grace we would try as much as possible to win the tournament.”