There may already be well over 50 nationalities represented in Spain’s top flight this season alone, with even more flags being flown in the past, but that doesn’t stop new ground being broken. Qatar looks set to be the latest nation to see its colours join that array after starlet Akram Afif agreed a move to La Liga side Villarreal.
“It is a dream come true for me to be the first Qatari player in La Liga,” Afif told www.sc.qa. The 19-year-old forward, who was on loan at KAS Eupen in Belgium from Qatar Stars League club Al Sadd, said he was excited to begin competing for a first team place in one of the top sides in Spain’s La Liga after impressing in helping the Belgian side win promotion to the Pro League.
“I want to do something for Qatar. Playing in the Champions League is an objective for me,” he said. “[Villarreal] are a big team and one of the best in Spain. I hope I can learn a lot of things in the next few years from the players and the coaches with the club.”
Afif arrives with at least a dash of Spanish experience, having trained with Sevilla’s youth team back in 2012. He has also been getting some schooling from a bona fide La Liga legend at Al Sadd. “Xavi is a big player and he gives me advice about how I can improve,” the Doha-born striker explained, having shared the training field with the former Barcelona captain and FIFA World Cup™ winner.
“Everyone knows that Xavi is one of the best players in the world. I am inspired by a lot of players from the Spanish league, Messi, Cristiano, Neymar, Iniesta, I like Denis Suarez at Villarreal, and they also have some of the best defenders in the world like Sergio Ramos.”
The Qatari attacker stood out at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, scoring the AFC Asian U-19 champions’ only goal during the tournament, and looked composed with the ball at his feet. He graduated a few weeks later to the senior set-up, getting on the scoresheet during his debut in the 15-0 demolition of Bhutan, and has been a regular face in Jose Carreno’s squads ever since. Unsurprisingly, a home World Cup in six years’ time is very much on Afif’s radar.
“I dream of playing for Qatar in the World Cup in 2022,” he said. “I think we will have a good team for Qatar 2022, our youth team is readying for the Asian Cup in October and they have a good team, we also won the last Asian Cup in Myanmar. We have a good young generation developing.”
Eyes on Russia
Even so, having stormed through Round 2 of Asian qualifying, there’s every chance he may get the chance to cut his teeth at a World Cup four years earlier. They are grouped with China PR, Iran, Korea Republic, Syria and Uzbekistan in the next round – kicking off in September – with two automatic places up for grabs, though the forward admits that progression will not be a straightforward task.
“Our target in the national team is that we want to play in the World Cup in Russia in 2018. We have the chance to do so because we have a very good team. It is a difficult group but nothing is easy in life, and I hope that we can take third or second position.”
Ultimately, should his relocation to the Mediterranean coast go as planned, Afif hopes his move can help the national team grow ahead of the global festival of football landing on home soil. “I want to learn from the experience of training with and playing against the best players in the world, and take that experience back to Qatar with me when it comes around to the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” he explained.
“I also hope more Qatari players can play in Europe to improve, to fight, to keep working hard and to learn a lot of things for the World Cup. The World Cup is in our country and it is a big chance for Qatari players."