In winning the 2015 AFC Beach Soccer Championship and crowning themselves kings of Asia, a talented Oman side also made sure of a place at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015, the second time they will be appearing in the sport’s biggest competition.
While no individual awards came the way of the Oman players at the end of the competition, theirs is a team in which every member plays for each other, as captain Hani Al Dhabit explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
"We really do play as a team,” said the skipper. “We’ve been together for several years now and we put our coach’s instructions into practice. Our objective was not to win individual awards but to reach the World Cup and win the Asian title. It doesn’t matter who scores the goals, and if you want to win things you have to defend and attack as a unit.”
Before taking up the beach discipline, Al Dhabit made a name for himself in the 11-a-side game, becoming Oman’s all-time leading international goalscorer. Discussing his decision to make the switch to sand, he said: “This is my fourth year with the national beach soccer team.
"I made the switch because it gives me the strength and the physical fitness I need to keep on playing. There’s a big difference between sand and grass. The laws and tactics are not the same, but I’ve managed to adapt and I do what’s asked of me in every game. I played at the 2011 World Cup and I hope to be selected for Portugal 2015.”
A formidable attack
Oman scored a grand total of 32 goals in the Asian qualifiers and went unbeaten throughout the competition, registering five wins and a draw in the final, which they went on to win on penalties. As that record suggests, the Omanis have plenty of firepower and creativity up front, where Al Dhabit provides the sharpest of spearheads.
Drawing on the same skill set that served him so well on grass, he probes for space amid opposition defenders and looks to get on the end of passes long and short from his team-mates. Revealing more about his role, he said: “It’s pretty similar to the one I had when I was playing on grass. We rehearse tactical moves in training and then apply them in matches. The goals we score are down to the hard work we put in.”
While his side celebrated their Asian title win, coach Talib Al Thanawi spoke of the importance of having Al Dhabit in the ranks: “He’s a great player who has the experience and the skills needed to lead our front line. He brings a lot to the team and we’re grateful for his services. We’re hoping he can do an even better job for us at the World Cup.”
Oman’s only previous appearance in the Asian final came in 2011, when they hosted the competition, which had come into being six years earlier. Japan beat them 2-1 on that occasion, though they did have the consolation of securing a place for the world finals later that year in Ravenna, Italy.
Looking back on their recent performances in the continental qualifiers, Al Thanawi said: “We failed to make it to Dubai 2009 (when Japan and Bahrain contested the final of the qualifiers and the United Arab Emirates were the other Asian side to reach the World Cup).
“In 2011 our aim on home sand was to make the world finals for the first time, which we managed, despite losing to Japan in the final. In the qualifying competition for Tahiti 2013 we went out in the first round, which made us very determined to come and qualify for the World Cup this time and to take the Asian title, no matter who we came up against.”
The coach then added, with a smile: “After winning our first-round games and comfortably beating China PR in the quarter-finals, we realised that our objectives were within reach. The semi-final against Lebanon was very exciting because they kept coming back at us. We stuck at it, though, and got the winner in the closing seconds.
“In the final, we didn’t let Japan impose themselves on us and I think we got our tactics spot on. We held the lead for a long time, but they managed to come back and equalise. The players were all full of confidence during the penalty shootout and we achieved our aim through sheer determination. It’s an incredible win for us and we’ll never forget it.”
No lack of confidence
While things did not go as planned for the Omanis at Ravenna 2011, where a lack of experience was a factor in their three first-round defeats, they have high hopes of making an impression in Portugal later this year, as their coach explained: “Confidence is key. We didn’t know what obstacles we were going to face in Ravenna, but that won’t be the case this time.
“We’ve got a lot more experience now, which should help us turn things around. There’s no doubt that winning the continental title has boosted our confidence.”
Before signing off, he added: “We’ve got a few months to go before we make the trip to Portugal, and we’re going to get our preparations just right. We need to stay in good physical shape and work on our game, and we’re going to try and play some big teams so that we can then go on and have a good World Cup. Our main objective is to get past the first round and make our mark on the competition. We really hope we can do just that."