With Qatar’s participation in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May just a matter of months away, www.sc.qa took the opportunity to talk to two key members of Qatar’s trophy-winning squad who lifted the AFC U-19 Asian Championship last year and qualified for the global youth showpiece in New Zealand.
Both play their club football in Belgium with KAS Eupen. Skillful forward Akram Afif and the U-19 side's captain Ahmad Moein were in Doha for their team’s winter training camp in January. Moien, who has been in Belgium now for over a year, said linguistic skills were almost equally as important as those on the pitch: “At the start it was really hard, especially because of the language barrier. Communication was a struggle. But after two months things got better and I felt more comfortable – and that definitely helps your game.”
Although the style of play was slightly different, Moein can attest that making the move to Belgium definitely helped when it came to lifting the AFC U-19 Championship last October in Myanmar. “Constant training was the key factor behind our success in Myanmar, but the move to Belgium to play with KAS Eupen made us stronger and definitely helped us win,” the captain said.
Moein has played with KAS Eupen for a year and a half now, and Afif, who played for Sevilla’s academy and whose brother Ali is a Qatar national team player, signed a contract with Eupen last month after two months of training.
Moein and Afif won’t be the only Qataris playing for Eupen, as other members of the U-19 side that won the AFC Championship in Myanmar, like Ahmad Al Saadi, are also part of the club's setup.
The Qatari contingent at Eupen are not the first Qataris to play in Europe, with Saoud Fath and Adel Jaddouh both having played for Austrian club Rapid Vienna, and the much-traveled Hussein Yasser playing for a host of clubs from Belgium to Portugal.
With their sight set on a potential appearance on home soil in 2022, these players have a lot riding on their shoulders, but despite the pressure of high expectations, their minds are focused and their goals are solid.
Afif concluded that he would be taking his career step by step and looks forward to representing his country in New Zealand: “Of course playing for Manchester United would be my dream," he smiled.
"But we need to be humble. We need to focus first on moving to the first division in Belgium, and then we need to focus on the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, and on much smaller objectives before we dream of making it that far. But of course, it’s a dream, and Eupen is helping us realize our dreams. Simply playing in Europe is something surreal."