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Isiaka Olawale in action 
For a man who prefers the 11-a-side version to the five-man game, Isiaka Olawale has achieved quite a lot in beach soccer. In a few weeks, the 33-year-old will captain Nigeria at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Bahamas 2017. In an interview with Olawale he looks forward to the tournament.

“Qualifying for the finals was not easy,” Olawale said. “We have not made it for the last two tournaments and being beaten in the semi-finals by Senegal in the Seychelles and missing out on qualifying for the finals in Portugal was very painful. In 2013, we were also beaten by Senegal in the last four. So we were very determined.

“For the qualifying tournament this time around, we recalled some of the older players. As captain of the team, I spoke to the players and told them this is a great opportunity. The African championships were in our country, so we had a lot of advantages.”

As hosts, the Super Sand Eagles were seeded into Group A, where they faced Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt and Ghana. “This was not an easy group,” Olawale said. “Côte d'Ivoire and Egypt are regularly in the semi-finals and Ghana is not a bad team either. But we wanted to avoid facing Senegal again, so we thought that we had to win our group.” Although they lost their second group match on penalties to rivals Cote d'Ivoire, they benefited from the West African's defeat against Egypt in their final game, thus giving Nigeria top place and a semi-final match-up against Morocco. A comfortable 6-1 win saw them through to the final, but more importantly, it also gave them a place at the world finals in the Bahamas. Although they lost the championship match to Senegal, they had achieved their main goal.


Nigeria will be playing in Group B at the global event, which takes place at the end of April and beginning of May in the Bahamas. They will be challenging Iran, Italy and Mexico for a place in the knockout stages.
“All the teams we will be facing are very, very good teams,” Olawale said. “However, and I say that with the utmost of respect to our opponents, we don't have to overestimate anybody.



Bahamas 2017 will be the fourth time that Olawale competes in the showpiece event of beach soccer, having been in the Nigerian team at the 2007 finals in Brazil, the 2009 edition in the United Arab Emirates and the last time the Super Sand Eagles made it through in 2011, when Italy hosted the tournament.

Like many other beach soccer players, Olawale started out in the traditional game, but unlike many others, he still competes at the highest level, turning out for El Kanemi Warriors in the Nigerian top flight.
“When I was playing for WA Tlemcen in Algeria, we would often train on the beach and I realised I was good at it,” he said. “When I returned to Nigeria in 2006, I was asked to join the national beach soccer team and it was an opportunity I was not going to miss, even though my heart is with 11-a-side game.”


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