Al Duhail front man Ali Afif is all set to grace the FIFA Club World Cup for the second time in his career. His first appearance in the competition came ten years ago, when he played for Al Sadd, the then Asian champions.
Afif was only 23 when he ran out at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011, having made a big contribution to Al Sadd’s second continental title, playing eight matches in their victorious AFC Champions League campaign.
Though he missed Al Sadd’s first two matches in the competition –a 2-1 win over Esperance Sportive de Tunis and a 4-0 semi-final defeat to Barcelona – he came on for the last 18 minutes of the match for third place against host team Kashiwa Reysol, a game Al Sadd won 5-3 on penalties.
Now 33, the forward spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the importance of a competition he hopes to feature in again this year.
“I didn’t play a lot [in the 2011 competition], but the Club World Cup is a very demanding tournament,” said Afif. “The coach wanted to give everyone some playing time and a chance to compete at this level.”
A month after his maiden FIFA Club World Cup appearance, Afif left Al Sadd to join Lekhwiya, which has since become Al Duhail SC. It was there that he embarked on a successful new phase in his career, helping the club to win six Qatari league titles, the latest of which came last season and earned them a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020™.
“I’m delighted to be one of the few Qatari players to play in the Club World Cup twice, which is not something many players can say,” he added, before discussing Al Duhail’s bid to better Al Sadd’s run to the semi-finals ten years ago. “It’s always pleasing to equal records but we’ve got the ability to reach the final and go one step further than Al Sadd did in 2011. We need a bit of luck to do that. And when it comes to knockout matches you also need to use your head sometimes.”
The road ahead
The Qatari champions received a bye into the second round of Qatar 2020 when their scheduled first-round opponents, New Zealand side Auckland City, pulled out of the tournament due to the nation’s coronavirus restrictions.
That does not mean to say, however, that Afif and Al Duhail will have it easy in their bid to go far in the competition. Their first opponents will be reigning African champions Al Ahly, a team with considerable Club World Cup experience, having made five previous appearances in the competition.
“There’s no question that Al Ahly are one of the biggest sides in Africa. They were named the continent’s club of the 20th century,” said Afif ahead of the meeting with the Egyptians on Thursday 4 February at Education City Stadium.
“We’ll see what happens against the African champions but it’s 11 versus 11,” he added. “If we beat Al Ahly, we’ll then play Bayern Munich, but we have to face the African champions first. We have to prepare and focus on how to play them because they’re a great side too.”
Afif was part of the Qatar team that won the country’s first ever AFC Asian Cup title in 2019, a tournament in which his younger brother Akram played a starring role. Afif’s aim now is to use his experience and help his young Al Duhail team-mates make history at Qatar 2020.
“I give thanks to God for all the success I’ve achieved and for playing at two Club World Cups,” he said, wrapping things up. “I’d like to thank Al Sadd, Al Duhail and the Qatar Football Association for showing faith in me and my football career. I’ll use all my experience for the good of the team. It makes me really happy that the players are proud of me and proud of having me by their side at Al Duhail.”
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