Asian Cup hosts and holders Qatar have been on a mission to erase the painful reminiscence of the 2022 World Cup flop and ahead Akram Afif is main the cost.
Qatar misplaced all three of its World Cup matches on dwelling soil simply over a 12 months in the past en path to a first-round exit, the worst document of any host within the competitors’s historical past.
But it surely’s a special story on the Asian Cup – albeit after simply two matches in opposition to average opponents – and Tintin Marquez’s aspect are the primary to succeed in the knockout rounds.
A lot of their success is all the way down to Afif, who scored twice of their opening 3-0 win over Lebanon and scored one other as they defeated debutants Tajikistan.
The 27-year-old says Qatar have “forgotten the World Cup” and are solely targeted on retaining their continental title.
“It isn’t simply me, there are 11 gamers,” Afif stated after Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Tajikistan took them to the subsequent spherical.
“Akram Afif would not have carried out it with out the help of his teammates and coaches.”
Afif was one of many stars of the 2019 Asian Cup, the place his partnership with striker Almoez Ali helped Qatar raise the trophy for the primary time.
Each gamers began all three matches on the World Cup however failed to attain in defeats to Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands.
Now that they are again on the purpose path, Afif says the pair “understands what one another goes to do exactly by taking one look.”
However it’s Afif, with three targets to Ali’s, who was central to the early phases of the Asian Cup.
– Ominous warning –
Qatar changed coach Felix Sánchez with Carlos Queiroz after the World Cup, however they modified path once more after they introduced in Marquez only a month earlier than the Asian Cup.
With the event being so shut, it was an enormous gamble.
However the Spaniard is aware of Qatar soccer nicely having coached Al-Wakrah for 5 years, following a earlier spell on the nation’s Aspire Academy.
“I coached Akram six years in the past when he was younger and I knew he was a wonderful participant who may make a distinction,” Marquez stated.
“I am very completely happy to see him evolve into the participant he’s as we speak.”
Afif’s targets wouldn’t solely assist erase some tough World Cup recollections however may additionally put him within the store window of European golf equipment.
He has performed for Qatar’s Al-Sadd since 2020, however had an prolonged spell in Europe earlier in his profession with spells in Belgium and Spain.
He stated he would “play in Europe tomorrow if potential” however is cautious as he enters his prime.
“If I’m going to Europe and sit on the bench, it’s higher to remain in my nation and play,” he stated.
“I do know I’ve to struggle to play, however it’s not straightforward to only go to Europe tomorrow and play. I am serving to my nation.”
Qatar are assured of high spot in Group A no matter what occurs of their ultimate group match in opposition to China on Monday.
In an ominous warning for the remainder of the competitors, Afif stated “the very best is but to return” in his partnership with Ali.
“We reside in a brand new day as we speak,” he stated, because the World Cup pale additional into the previous.
“Daily is a chance to compete and struggle for an opportunity to maintain the cup.”