2014 hero Afif to lead Qatar charge at AFC U-23 in China
BEIJING: As the countdown continues to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatari striker Akram Afif and his team-mates are getting ready for the AFC U-23 Championship challenge, hoping to win an international title.
Afif was the focus of Qatar’s success at the AFC U-19 Championship in 2014 before narrowly missing out to lead his country at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Afif and his colleagues are confident they can shine and make a good impression in China.
“We are happy to go to China for the AFC U-23 Championship,” said Afif, who plays in the Belgian league as an attacker.
“We have won the AFC U-19 Championship with the same players, but we have to forget that. We are now focusing on the new challenge of our under-23 team during the continental championships in China, and we hope to win another title,” he told.
Qatar beat North Korea in the final of the 19-year continental championship held in Myanmar in 2014 with many players including Afif.
Who also took part in the AFC U-23 Championship in 2016, which was also the qualifying championship for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The Qataris were very impressive during the early stages of the continental championship before losing one of the three Asian cards to Brazil. They lost to Korea Republic in the semi-finals and suffered a painful defeat against Iraq after resorting to extra time during the competition.
But Afif, who currently plays for the Belgian club Yubin after spending a professional experience with Villarreal and Sporting Gijon in Spain, is confident of drawing on the lessons learned after two years ago.
“The 2016 tournament was a disappointment for all of us, especially as we were not able to qualify for Rio de Janeiro and certainly we learned from the last tournament and this will be better for the team,” Afif said.
“I tried to do my best, to do my best with my team in the previous tournament two years ago. Now we are teaming up with the national team to achieve a perfect result. I hope things will work well with us during the next AFC U-23 Championship,” he added.
While Qatar have lost their place at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, it is certain that an under-23 team will be highlighted in Qatar. Afif says Qataris are taking good steps to secure the status they deserve in the next continental championship.
“There is a new generation of players. We have a new national team. We are a combination of the Olympic team and the first team. During the Gulf Cup and the Asian Cup finals in the UAE, we will see what we are going to do there,” he said.
“But the first thing we are trying to achieve now is that we want to bring the AFC U-23 Championship to Qatar, and secondly we want to do it for us as players and our families.
“For us as players, we want to win the title to be the first team in the history of Qatar to win two continental titles of the same generation of players, and we can move forward and try to achieve the achievement also with the Qatari team first, and hope that this during the Asian Cup 2019 in the UAE,” he added.