A Volleyball World Cup top scorer doesn’t have to be all that is necessary. Nimr Abdelaziz understands that he will be considered if he scores 85 points in three matches, but he does not like to be stressed about his role. “I like to play volleyball and win, but then it doesn’t always have to be about me.”
Abdulaziz is the star, that only player who stands out and can take a team to the next level. He stands out because of his place on the field alone: as a diagonal striker, he is the man who has to make the points most often. The massive way he fills this position does the rest: Keepers often only hear the ball when he hits balls over the net with his high jumps and powerful right arm.
On the pitch, he’s definitely the guy who wants the balls around the game pretty much. Just don’t think he’s some kind of Ronaldo, who is older or older than the Portuguese soccer team. “It makes sense to have more talk about a player. But it also makes sense to let you know that it’s not just about the person who makes the points.
In the World Cup, his teammates’ assists, blocks and services, and yes, also his 85 points, ensured that the Netherlands became the unbeaten group winner. Surprise, because two of the three opponents – Argentina and Iran – were much higher in the world ranking. In the eighth final, volleyball players will face Ukraine on Monday, which is much less.
“We have to be confident,” says the tall (2.01 metres) captain. “But we really have to reset again. The group win is nice. But if you don’t win now, you’re out.
Volleyball players want to prevent this, because in the coming years everything is about reaching the Olympics in 2024. For this, the Netherlands should be higher in the world rankings in the lead up to Paris. Eleventh place should suffice, higher than now.
“We’re not a real big team yet,” Abdelaziz analyzes, and will trade Italy’s Modena for Turkey’s Halkbank in Ankara this summer. “We are a team heading towards the top 8 countries in the world. If we beat Ukraine now, we would be in the quarter-finals, just as they did in the last World Cup. That is confirmation that you are now reasonably stable with them. Anything that comes with that is a great bonus.”
Four years ago, the Netherlands finished eighth in the World Cup, a higher number than expected after years of missing out on the world top. A year later, the result at the European Championship was again disappointing, as volleyball players were stranded in the eighth finals. And Roberto Piazza, the coach of the national team at the time, concluded that he lacked, among other things, a good and quick central attack. He said he wanted to work on it. He now ensures that the Netherlands can play more diversely and that it does not end up on Abdelaziz’s shoulders.
“On every team you always have a player who gets more balls than the rest,” says the striker. This sounds good in stats, but in volleyball more players touch the ball in each rally. You cannot do it alone. With good teams being evenly distributed and in this tournament we have it in order so far.
The kernel is more stable
The captain saw that his team, the core of which had been playing together for a while, had become more stable in recent years. “If it went well, we would have played very well. But she hit and missed too. The very high peaks and valleys are gone. Then you can show the beautiful things.”
He thinks it’s not over yet, either. Only because he was still playing as a playmaker in 2016. It was only that year that he made the switch to a Qatari striker, a move almost never taken. “What I’m doing now, I’ve only been doing it for a very short time. Some guys have been doing this since childhood, day in and day out. They probably learned a little bit in their thirties. There’s a huge difference for me between now and two or three years ago and I think I’m still making progress.”
It’s a combination of technology and game vision. The better you master the technique, the more space there is for the rest. “You have high balls, you have fast balls, you have a one-man block, a two-man block, a three-man block,” Abdulaziz explains. “The first time you’re up against a three-man block, you play it a certain way and then it gets blocked. Then you have to do it differently the second time around. The more often you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Still, I think I’m not a good Qatari player.
If he is, he will probably keep it to himself. “The best teams are the ones that really play as a team and not as individuals. That’s why you won’t hear from me how good I am.
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