In a group with the Netherlands, Ecuador and Senegal, Qatar obviously leaves with the last chance. But this year’s World Cup hosts are ready to spring a surprise, and Akram Afif can be the man to lead them to a historic performance.
At 26, Afif is already a certainty and is used to being in the spotlight. One of the players produced by the famous Aspire Academy, the project created to lay the foundations of a strong national team, the star of the team coached by Felix Sanchez became the first footballer from Qatar to perform in Spain, in La Liga.
He arrived in Europe via the Belgian club Eupen, which the government of Qatar purchased in 2012 precisely with the aim of allowing players from the Aspire Academy to get in touch with European football. Afif was one of the key players in the 2015/16 season, which ended with the team’s promotion to the Belgian premier league. His performances brought him to the attention of Villarreal, who bought him in the summer of 2016.
“KAS Eupen gave me the right conditions to develop as a player and as a person. The club helped me grow and for that, I thank the coaches, colleagues, and fans, said Akram Afif at the departure.
Immediately, Villarreal loaned him to Sporting Gijon, for whom he played 9 times in the Spanish championship. After a single season spent in Spain, Afif returned to Eupen, also on loan, and since 2018 he has been playing for the most important club in Qatar, Al Sadd.The European experience, although ended without much success, helped him become a household name in his native country and in Asia. The year 2019 brought him the definitive consecration.
After being decisive for Qatar’s U19 national team, champion of Asia in 2014, and contributing to the 4th place on the continent occupied by the U23 team, in the same year, he reached the senior national team, and at the 2019 Asian Cup, he had a contribution huge at the historic title won by Qatar. His colleague Almoez Ali was the top scorer of the tournament with 9 goals, but Afif, who scored just once, set a competition record with 10 assists. In fact, he was directly involved in more than half of Felix Sanchez’s national team’s successes at the UAE tournament (11 out of 19).
Also in 2019, he contributed with 5 goals (4 of them in the knockout stages) as Al Sadd reached the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League, a stage of the competition where the Qatari outfit lost to eventual winners Al Hilal. Thus, at the end of the year, he was named the best footballer in Asia, which strengthened his status.
At the national team, he already has more than 80 caps and 26 goals (8th place all-time), with important chances to climb to the top of the best scorers in the history of Qatar, taking into account his age. He seems to have overcome a more difficult period, in which he was plagued by injuries and would have come into conflict with Xavi, in the latter part of the mandate that the current FC Barcelona coach had at Al Sadd, and the approach of the World Cup finds him in a good shape. He scored in this year’s friendly matches against Bulgaria, Chile, and Honduras and reminded many of the player who made waves almost 4 years ago at the Asian Cup. Or the one who scored the winning goal in the friendly with Switzerland (1-0), from November 2018. Probably the most resounding success of Qatar in the preparation of the World Cup that it will host.
A quick and explosive winger, Akram Afif needs to shed the capricious footballer tag and show that on a good day, he can outplay any opponent. Despite the misunderstandings he had with him, Xavi did not hide his admiration for Afif: “He is an incredible talent. I told him many times that he is a fantastic player”.
The home World Cup is the most suitable stage to show it.