By John Egbokhan
Beach Eaglesâ€™ hero, Isiaka Olawale, has said that Nigeria rightly deserved to emerge African champions after shooting the team to a thumping victory over Cote dâ€™ Ivoire on Sunday in Durban, South Africa.
In a thrilling decider, Nigeria defeated their Ivorian foes 7-4, to win the 2009 African Beach Soccer Championship, with the two finalists qualifying to represent Africa at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, taking place between November 16 to 22 in Dubai.
A combination of clinical finishing and solid defending earned the Super Eagles their second continental title following on from their 2007 success. Integral to their triumph were the goals of Olawale, whose 14 strikes, over the duration of the tournament, earned him both the top scorer and best player awards.
â€œWe knew the whole country would be following the game so we were desperate not to lose,â€ said Olawale.
â€œEach one of us has a very important role to play out there, and that makes us stronger as a unit. During the tournament we improved with every game and so deserve to be at the World Cup. We also deserved to win the tournament because we played with a united purposeâ€, said the goal-hitting Olawale.
Despite losing to Nigeria, the Ivorians can be more than satisfied with their work in Durban, where they ended a series of four successive third-place finishes to finally take one of the continentâ€™s two allocated berths for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. The Elephants had further cause to pop the champagne, as their goalkeeper, Kevin Enam, picked up the award for best goalkeeper.
â€œWeâ€™ve been striving to achieve this for a long time. Iâ€™m euphoric. To be able to defend my nationâ€™s colours at World Cup is a dream come true,â€ said Kevin Boris Enam, the Ivorian captain and keeper who became the hero of the hour when he saved from Hany to secure the shoot-out victory in their semi-final contest against Egypt.