Afif coy on Europe after guiding Qatar to second Asian Cup title

Monday, Feb 12, 2024

LUSAIL: Qatar’s Akram Afif underlined his credentials as one of Asia’s finest forwards with a hat-trick in the Asian Cup final to guide his team to back-to-back titles, but the forward was coy on playing for another European club in future.

Afif netted three penalties in the 3-1 victory over Jordan, and he bagged a treble of individual awards: player of the match, most valuable player of the tournament, and top scorer with eight goals.

Opposition coaches who have faced him have praised his skills, with Tajikistan’s Petar Segrt saying it was only a question of time and whether the 27-year-old Al-Sadd forward wanted to return to Europe. Since leading Qatar to the 2019 title with a tournament record 10 assists, Afif has become one of Asia’s most-feared players.

At the start of this tournament, he said he had dreams of returning to Europe having previously played for Eupen in the Belgian Pro League. He later became the first Qatari player to be signed by a LaLiga club when he moved to Villarreal in 2016, but he was loaned out to Sporting Gijon before returning to Eupen and finally to Al-Sadd in 2018.

He has since developed and is arguably playing at his peak based on his Asian Cup exploits. “I talked about becoming a professional player (in Europe). But it’s not me who decides. My wife also has to make the decision for me. It’s not easy to leave the club and country,” Afif told reporters after the final.

But he added: “I’d love to become a professional player (in Europe) ... I’d say I would love to go.” For now, he will enjoy helping Qatar become only the fifth country to successfully defend their Asian Cup crown.

“We’re happy and we will enjoy until the next Asian Cup. Then we’ll see what happens,” he added. Coach Marquez Lopez was appointed only in December when Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz abruptly parted company with the national team.

But Lopez, who came in from Qatari side Al-Wakrah, managed to implement his philosophy despite taking charge less than a month before the Asian Cup. The Spaniard did not say if he would stay in the job long-term, however.

“What will happen is I’ll go back to Al-Wakrah. I haven’t talked about the future,” Lopez said. “I took charge only recently but what was most important was that I know the players, they implemented my ideas very fast. “In some matches we didn’t deliver our best, but in others we were better and exceeded expectations.”