Warsaw, Poland, June 30, 2018 – They “are going to be Olympic champions or world champions, for sure.” Or at least Cherif Younousse believes that. With this kind of confidence the Qatari pair of Cherif and Ahmed Tijan, both 23 years old, took calmly their defeat in the second round of men’s elimination at the Warsaw four-star event on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour and are already looking forward to claiming gold next week in Espinho.
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With such positive attitude towards what they do for a living and towards life in general, the two African-born members of the recently formed Qatari team are progressing through the current season of the World Tour. They are not in a hurry to catch up with the big teams, because they know it is going to happen one day, sooner or later...
Cherif Younousse was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal. “I lived right by the beach, so I always played beach volleyball; also some basketball in high school, but I never played indoor volleyball,” he tells his story. “My big brother was playing beach volleyball, so I think I started when I was eight. I only did it in the summer, because the rest of the time I had to go to school. But I played in some local tournaments for like eight years. But beach volleyball in Senegal is not well developed, so when an agent offered me to go to Qatar, I accepted. It is good there and I don’t regret my decision. It’s something amazing for me.”
Cherif receives the ball
The story of Ahmed Tijan was quite similar. He was born in Gambia, one of Senegal’s neighbours. “When I was young, I was playing different sports – football, table tennis and street volleyball. Around 2011 I went to Senegal to improve my indoor volleyball skills, because they have a better league,” Ahmed remembers. “Then I met a manager and through him I received the chance to go to Doha. There I played indoor for two-three years and then I moved to beach volleyball.”
The two youngsters first appeared as a Qatari team on the international scene in 2014, but then each of them was paired up with a more experienced Brazilian-born partner.
Cherif played alongside Jefferson Santos Pereira for a few seasons. They won gold at Kish Island 2016 and even qualified for the Olympic Games later that year, where they won a couple of matches against very strong opponents.
Cherif in action during Olympic win over Spain’s Herrera and Gavira
“The Olympics was so good, just being there…” Cherif exclaims. “I will fight to be there again next time, because to be there and represent your country is something no one can ever take away from you. In 2012 I was watching the Olympics on TV at home and if someone had told me that I would be competing at the next Olympics I would have never believed them. So from where I come from to where I went in four years was something amazing, something I will never forget. I am really proud of myself.”
At the same time, Ahmed Tijan teamed up with Julio Nascimento. In 2017 they won their first two medals on the Tour – silver at the Agadir one-star and silver at the Espinho two-star. From Warsaw, Ahmed and Cherif are heading back to Espinho, but this time a four-star tournament will take place in the Portuguese town. However, Ahmed is aiming higher: “Now we are going for the gold with this guy!”
Qatar’s pair during a match at Warsaw
Cherif and Ahmed reunited as a team at the beginning of 2018.
“The national federation decided that we have to play together with the goal to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics through the FIVB ranking,” Cherif explains. “It is a huge challenge for us, because we were used to playing with partners, who were more experienced than us. But we just have to enjoy it without pressure. Well, of course, the pressure is there. It is everywhere, but we just have to take it with us as a friend – ‘hey, Pressure, you are here, how are you?’ But we already did what we had to do, so we have nothing to prove anymore, just to play right now... It is not going to be easy to achieve our main goal, the Olympics, with these top teams, who have the same goal.”
Their first World Tour medal as a pair came soon after they got together. At home, at the four-star event in Doha, they claimed the bronze, beating none other than the top-seeded Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena of USA in the third place match.
“It was amazing to win against Dalhausser and Lucena, the best team in USA - very experienced, legendary players,” Ahmed relives the glorious moment. “It was nice to play on home ground, because you always feel this atmosphere. You feel at home, everybody is supporting you, your family is there and you feel good. This was a good tournament for us, our third on the World Tour, we got bronze, so it was a good way to start, but I believe we can achieve more. I believe in Cherif and I believe in myself. Especially this year, I think we are going to do well. It is not going to be easy, because there are a lot of good young teams, who are very similar to us, but we will do our best.”
Other than that podium finish, their best result on the Tour so far is the ninth place. They finished ninth at The Hague, at Mersin and here, at Warsaw, after losing to fourth-seeded Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of the Netherlands 2-0 (22-20, 21-16).
“It is OK that we lost to Brouwer and Meeuwsen. We have nothing to lose. Anybody can lose to this team,” Cherif comments. “But the most important is that we did not make it easy for them and now they know, all the teams know, that against Qatar it is going to be tough. And for us it is a really good motivation. We have a good coach who is always giving us information and our game is improving a lot, especially during this tournament. We just need to go to the next step next week in Espinho. It’s not a big deal. It’s all about practicing and playing beach volleyball, there is nothing more to it. There has been huge progress since we got together. It looks really good for the future and we are curious to find out what happens.”
Cherif blocking during the victory over Latvia
Moving to Qatar and playing for their newly-adopted homeland has changed the lives of these young and talented hopefuls from West Africa and created for them opportunities they would not have dreamed of.
“We are very happy with the chance to represent Qatar, because if we were in Africa we would not get this opportunity to play at such a high level,” Ahmed admits. “And this is what we want, this is what we are looking for – to play the highest level, to play at the Olympics…”
Triumphant Ahmed Tijan
“We are still young and we have time to develop. There is no hurry. All these good teams didn’t start from the top level right away. They started like us – lose qualification, lose main draw, win, lose again, and so on…” Cherif adds. “And one day we are going to beat them. Sooner or later, we are going to be Olympic champions or world champions, for sure. I believe that.”