Almoez Ali, Qatar's goal machine
Ali struck seven goals in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 group stage
He is now Qatar's all-time top scorer at the competition
He discusses his objectives with Qatar at the tournament and beyond
When the Qatari national team travelled to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, their luggage included more than just the normal kit, balls and other equipment that every team bring to such tournaments. It is fair to say that they had a few aces up their sleeves.
Before the competition kicked off, no one was quite sure what to expect from them, but Al Annabi quickly showed what they were made of, turning heads with their cohesive style of play, tactical organisation and firepower.
Indeed, the Qataris concluded the group stage with a sparkling record, ten goals scored and none conceded adding up to three wins from three and nine points from a possible nine. And beyond the team strengths mentioned above, it is Almoez Ali, the goal machine who has accounted for seven of their ten strikes, who has caused the biggest stir.
After settling the contest in Qatar's 2-0 opening win over Lebanon, Ali followed this up by notching no fewer than four times in the 6-0 thrashing of Korea DPR and then bagging a brace against Saudi Arabia to seal top spot in Group E. Having kept a lid on his emotions during his TV interview after that last match, Ali could contain his joy no longer, sprinting on to the pitch and yelling "top, top, Qatar, Qatar" before joining his team-mates in the dressing room to continue the celebrations there.
Ali and the rest of the squad were naturally beaming when they eventually emerged from the bowels of the stadium, but it was clear that they were keen not to get carried away. "Today we achieved one of our objectives," the attacker said after stopping to talk to FIFA.com. "We came to this competition with a number of goals. The first was to win all three games in the group stage and we're thankful to God that this mission has now been accomplished."
With his seven goals, Ali is now the highest-scoring Qatari in the history of the Asian Cup finals. He is only two away from surpassing Iran legend Ali Daei's record of eight goals at a single edition of the tournament, set in 1996. The young forward also became the first player in this instalment to hit a hat-trick, receiving a commemorative ball to stick on his mantelpiece ahead of the game against Saudi Arabia.
"Scoring is my duty as an attacker," he said. "I do my bit to help us win, but I wouldn't have achieved what I have without the team's efforts. We go out there with a game plan and ultimately, it doesn't matter who gets the goals; the important thing is to find the net and fulfil our objectives."
"I'm honoured to have achieved such success and I'll strive to achieve more. Why not?" he added. "I have big ambitions, but any awards I win – whether the competition's top-scorer prize or any other accolade – reflect on Qatar and my biggest motivation is doing the country proud and helping Al Annabi to go far in the competition."
The 22-year-old may have taken many observers by surprise, but Qatar coach Felix Sanchez is not one of them. The Spaniard knows full well what the rangy attacker, who stands 5'11 (1.80m) tall, is capable of. The pair worked together at youth level, winning the AFC U-19 Championship 2014 – earning a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 in the process – before taking the AFC U-23 Championship 2018 by storm, with Ali topping the scoring charts. Given this background, it is small wonder that the Spanish tactician has put such faith in the young forward this month in the UAE.
"I am proud of the belief the coach has always shown in me," said Ali, "but the past is in the past and this competition is a different story. This time I'm playing for the senior national team, which is a dream come true. I feel like I've got the backing of everyone, including Qatar FA president Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, the other team officials and my team-mates. Every player needs to feel that trust and I want to repay it by doing everything possible for the sake of the national team and the Qatari fans who are watching us back home. I feel blessed to have lived up to their expectations thus far and I pledge to keep delivering in the knockout stage."
It appears Ali and his team-mates are moving in the right direction, with this tournament marking another positive step on the road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil. For Sanchez, "Ali and the other young stars who have come up through the ranks in recent times have started to pick up valuable experience. They'll be mainstays of the side over the next four years. They've come on in leaps and bounds and this is another opportunity to experience different scenarios and hone their competitive edge on the big stage."
"I'm looking forward to the World Cup in Qatar," Sanchez went on. "It will be a great honour for me to be involved, but for the time being, we're focused on the Asian Cup. We want to go as far as possible. We've proven that we can go far. After that we will focus on preparing for the 2022 World Cup."
On the eve of the knockout stage, all eyes are on Qatar and Ali, who are on the verge of breaking new ground. Will the Qatari goal machine continue to fire on all cylinders and drive Al Annabi forward?