Sunday 18 February 2024, 05:15

Ozu Moreira: “Football brings many countries closer together"

  • Brazil-born Japan captain talks about his inspiring life story from Rio de Janeiro to top of game with Asian nation

  • 2019 adidas Golden Ball winner encourages the next generation “to build dreams and goals"

  • “If someone plays football with you, they can already become your friend," says Beach Soccer icon

The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup UAE 2024 Dubai™ is certain to serve up spectacular moments, excitement and emotion, but the unique and inspiring journey of one player in particular also provides the perfect illustration of how different cultures can stand together, and learn to understand each other better through sport.

One of the best defenders in the game, Japan’s player-coach Ozu Moreira was born and raised in the Brazilian megalopolis of Rio de Janeiro, and began playing beach soccer on the beaches of Copacabana at just six years old.

Japan National Team Player Ozu Moreira attempts an overhead kick

As his passion grew, he dreamed about becoming a professional beach soccer player, but unlike millions of his compatriots, he never imagined himself pulling on the fabled yellow shirt of Brazil. Instead, Ozu’s desire was to play abroad, and to learn a new culture by playing beach soccer. In 2007, that opportunity came in Japan. Upon arrival, it was love at first sight, and the feeling was mutual.

“It was because of the culture, and the reception the Japanese gave me. The fact that I was a foreigner, but at no point did they make me feel different. I still cherish the love and affection they had for me to this day,” he explained. “Japan is a captivating country. If you have the opportunity to visit, I recommend it to everyone, because falling in love with it is wonderful.”

Ozu Moreira of Japan celebrates after scoring

Despite initial challenges, Ozu quickly adjusted to the way of life in his new home and embraced it. “The culture in Brazil and the culture in Japan are completely different. I believe that Japanese culture made me grow more as a person, and as a man. From childhood to adulthood, there’s very strong discipline. So I think that discipline and Japanese culture were very important in my life.”

Ozu subsequently became fluent in Japanese, and acquired Japanese citizenship in 2012. He was immediately called up to the Japan national team, and became a key figure in raising the profile of beach soccer in his adopted country, notably through his own performances. The towering defender won the adidas Silver Ball at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013, and the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Paraguay 2019.

Ozu Moreira of Japan with the adidas Golden Ball

But Japan’s captain does not only shine on the pitch: he is also committed to using football’s power as a force for good. “I think football is a sport that conveys a lot of emotion, you know? It doesn’t differentiate between culture, race, or financial status. If someone plays football with you, they can already become your friend. I think football conveys that. The excitement of victory, the agony of defeat, the love of cheering for your team, for a family member, for a player. I think football helps unite and stabilise the lives of many people.”

He added: “I think football is the most popular sport worldwide. In terms of beach soccer, which is similar to regular football despite having different techniques, I think it brings many countries closer together through difficult times.”

Ozu’s remarkable story is further proof of football’s power to bring down barriers and unite the world. Now, his aim is to take the game to more children, provide more opportunities for all, and bring people together.

“I think every country has a passion for football. And in places where football is not well known, host football clinics, promotions, and find a way to deliver this message and provide opportunities for children and the audience to watch the magic of football. I do this a lot in Japan too. I go to schools, I go to cities that barely have beaches. So, I have the opportunity to represent a little of the culture of beach soccer. I think that wherever I go, I can reach about 100 children. So little by little, I try to use my profile, and my image, to promote the sport as well.”

The 38-year-old hopes that his story will inspire the next generation. “Inspiring children is not only about beach soccer, right? I try to convey this to them... There is a word I like that I carry with me in life, which is 'dream', you know? I think dreams move us, they give us motivation every day. If we don't have a dream, we don't have a reason to breathe every day.

“Even if it's very difficult, it can be a very small or very big dream, I try to teach them. In my case, I always dreamed of being a beach soccer player. I never thought I would play in Japan. The fact that I had this dream of being a beach soccer player, one dream led me to another dream, which was to get to know and eventually play for Japan, as I do today.

“So what I want to convey is to try to dream, to build dreams and goals, and then one dream connects to another, and gives daily motivation to each person. It can be a child, it can be an adult. It's for them to believe in their dreams and even if they don't have a dream, they should start with a small goal to build their life.”

Ozu Moreira of Japan poses with a player escort kid

Football Unites the World