Keeping up with the Abrahamses

SHIFAAN RYKLIEF

The annual Easter tournament kicks off today, with debutants Atlantic Nacional facing Mighty United, at 4.45pm in their opening group game.

Former Vasco da Gama and Old Mutual Academy goalkeeper, Shaheen, will be on high alert and on his toes when making his debut in the tournament.

He said despite being nervous leading up to the big stage of the Premier Cup, he will embrace the emotions come match day – as it’s every Cape soccer player’s ambition to play in this tournament. Atlantic Nacional was drawn into Group D, which also features Chippa United and Wits. Atlantic play Chippa United on Thursday at 12.30pm, and Wits on Saturday at 10.15am.

“I’ve been with the team for the last month and we’ve trained three days a week to prepare for the tournament. However, I do specialised goalkeeper training six days a week in my own capacity, at Faga Goalkeeper Academy,” said Shaheen.

“I’m really excited, because I’ve always been a spectator for as long as I can remember, but now I’ll get my chance to play. I’ll also draw inspiration knowing that I’ll be going up against Wits – the team where I spent a one week trial with.

“Everyone has their own goals going into the tournament. And, for me, I’d like to help the team get out of the group stage, but my personal objective is to win the Goalkeeper of the Tournament and impress Wits,” he said.

Atlantic Nacional will have the upper hand when they play Wits, as Shaheen got to know their ins and outs during his trial, in February. The young shot-stopper also spent some time with Mamelodi Sundowns in August, last year.

“During my time with the Students, I lived in the residence with the junior players but was training with the first team as well. I know which players to look out for when we play them, and will definitely warn my defenders on who to look out for and what to expect.

“I enjoyed my stint at Wits more than that at Sundowns, so I will likely join up with them next year after I finish school. I decided that the Wits option suits me better because of what they had to offer – their facilities, their style of play and the culture,” he said.

A Grade 12 pupil at Plumstead High School, Shaheen also earned his Western Province athletics stripes for shot-put, after doing well in the Southern Zone Section A athletics and WP Championships, earlier this year.

Shaheen’s outstanding performances on the sports fields also saw him lift the school’s Sportsman of the Year award, last year. And, the year prior, he donned the WP soccer jersey for the first time before going on to secure a spot in the SA national under-17 team.

“I started soccer only at 11 years old at Wynberg St Johns. I played as a defender but my asthma got the better of me, and that’s when I decided to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, Farouk Abrahams, to take up a goalkeeper’s role,” said Shaheen.

“I remember my first game as a keeper, it was really bad and we lost 10-0 to Crusaders. But, fortunately, I had the right tools close to me – in a goalkeeper legend and my mother, Rishca, who always encouraged me to not give up.

“And, since then, one of my highlights is playing Vasco da Gama in the Avendale Athletico under-15 tournament. That was a really memorable one for me because I won Goalkeeper of the Tournament, and scored from the halfway line through a free-kick during our semi-final match,” he said.

When Shaheen is not sharpening his goalkeeper skills on the training ground or spinning tracks at birthday parties, then he’s spending time playing console games with his uncle, Abdu-Daiyaan.

Daiyaan will be playing in the Premier Cup as well and will be guarding the goals for the current champions, Glendene United.

“I played against Daiyaan in the under-17 Knockout Challenge, last year. He played for Santos and we lost 2-1 to them. We are very close and spend a lot of time together when we not training at Faga. When we are relaxing at home playing Fifa or Forza on the console, then he knows I always beat him.

“I’m a DJ in my spare time and have played at farewells, birthday parties and school functions. I also did sailing for a year at the Zeekoevlei Yacht Club,” he said.

Meanwhile, club administrator Ayyoob Gester, said preparations have gone well because their Premier Cup squad have played all season together in the ABC Motsepe League’s second division.

“We have a bunch of talented players in the team. We are in a tough group, but we’ve prepared well and will take it one game at a time. Our main objective is to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament.

“The players play together in the second division, so we had to carefully monitor them in order to not overload them because we need them to peak at the tournament,” said Gester.

The former Santos coach only recently joined Atlantic Nacional, and brings with him the experience of competing in five Bayhill finals – of which he won two with the People’s Team and earned the Manager of the Tournament.