Qatar fo­cus­ing on one game at a time, says Akram Afif

‘We are playing our style, our performance and ev­ery­thing is how we have learned’

Gulf Times Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

Akram Afif has in­sisted he and his Qatar team­mates are fo­cus­ing on one game at a time, not only dur­ing the cur­rent AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 but all the way through un­til the coun­try hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Afif and his com­pa­tri­ots notched up a 2-0 win over Le­banon in Al Ain on Wed­nes­day thanks to goals from Bas­sam al-Rawi and Al­moez Ali as Qatar made a win­ning start to the con­ti­nen­tal cham­pi­onship for the first time in al­most 40 years.

The vic­tory en­sures Felix Sanchez and his team joined Saudi Ara­bia at the top of the early stand­ings in Group E and that the Qataris go into their next game against DPR Korea know­ing vic­tory will ef­fec­tively seal their spot in the Round of 16.

But while Qatar are at­tempt­ing to reach the knock­out phase of the AFC Asian Cup for just the third time, the issue of the team’s on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment in the lead-up to the FIFA World Cup lingers in the back­ground.

The AFC Asian Cup forms part of Qatar’s long-term plan to pre­pare for the tour­na­ment in four years’ time, with the team also due to travel to Brazil in June to play in the Copa Amer­ica. Afif, though, stresses he and his team­mates are look­ing no fur­ther ahead than to the next game.

“For us there’s no pres­sure and peo­ple are not say­ing that Qatar will win the Asian Cup,” said the winger. “We are playing our style, our performance and ev­ery­thing is how we have learned.

“We will do our best in each game, even if we have in six months the Copa Amer­ica in Brazil and there are a lot of other tour­na­ments. We’ll do our best.

“We have the World Cup in 2022 and the World Cup is the high­est com­pe­ti­tion in the world, but we’re not fo­cus­ing on the Copa Amer­ica or the World Cup, we’re fo­cus­ing on DPR Korea.

“And when we fin­ish against DPR Korea, we will go to the next one. We fin­ish the next one, then we’ll go to the next, all the way un­til the World Cup.”

Qatar were given a stern test by the Le­banese in their tour­na­ment opener, with Sanchez’s side forced to re­main pa­tient in their quest for a win that came after the in­tro­duc­tion of AFC Player of the Year Ab­delka­rim Has­san just after the hour mark.

Has­san in­jected greater ur­gency into the team and al-Rawi scored soon after with a curl­ing free-kick be­fore Ali net­ted the de­ci­sive second when he pounced from close range.

“The first half, it wasn’t easy to cre­ate chances but we tried our best,” said Afif. “We have to be pa­tient. Le­banon played a great game, they de­fended very well and tried to play on the counter-at­tack and us­ing throw-ins and free-kicks.”

“In the second half I think they got tired, be­cause you can’t de­fend for 90 min­utes and you can’t at­tack for 90 min­utes. We tried our best and we scored the first goal.

“We tried to do that in the first half but we couldn’t, we had to wait un­til the second half.

“They had to play with four at the back and that gave us some space and we scored the second goal. We tried to keep a clean sheet and we took the three points and we did our best.”

The win was Qatar’s first in an AFC Asian Cup opener since 1980 and sets them up to take on a DPR Korea team that lost 4-0 to Saudi Ara­bia in their opener after playing much of the game with only 10 men.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that we get these three points,” said Afif. “But now we have to for­get the Le­banon game and fo­cus on the DPR Korea game.

“It’s not that the Kore­ans lost 4-0 and that it will be an easy game. All the games will be hard for us, if we play the high­est team or the low­est team in the rank­ing. All of them are the same and we will try to win the next game so it’s eas­ier for us to qual­ify.”

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