Akram Afif: Villarreal move a dream come true and a chance to learn for 2022
One of the brightest prospects in Qatari football, Akram Afif, has expressed his delight at joining Spanish La Liga side Villarreal CF after helping Belgian outfit KAS Eupen win promotion to the top division – and said he believes more players have the potential to join European sides ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil.
"It is a dream come true for me to be the first Qatari player in La Liga," Afif told www.sc.qa in an interview on Sunday. "I hope I can be one of the best players in La Liga for Villarreal, and to help Qatar for the World Cup and represent the players from the Aspire Academy.
"I want to do something for Qatar. Playing in the Champions League is an objective for me, but first I want to help the team, that is the most important thing."
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.
"I am very happy to sign for Villarreal, they are a big team and one of the best teams in Spain. I hope I can learn a lot of things in the next years from the players and the coaches with the club. I know some of the players in the team and the city is very nice so I hope that I can do something for the team.
"Villarreal will play the Champions League next season so we'll try to be a difficult team to beat in La Liga and go as far as we can in all competitions. I haven't started training yet at Villarreal, but when I do I want to play for the first team and I hope to compete for a place."
The Doha-born striker, who already has some experience in Spain as he first trained in the youth team of Sevilla in 2012, added that he was looking forward to representing his national team in the home FIFA World Cup™ in six years' time.
"I dream of playing for Qatar in the World Cup in 2022. 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."
Akram made his debut for the Qatari national side during Qatar's 15-0 win over Bhutan in an Asian qualifier for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, and believes his country could make it to the finals with the current group of players.
"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."
The youngster played an important part in Eupen getting promoted to Belgium's top flight, and said the team was a fantastic place for Qatar's future talents to develop.
"It was a great season for us, we had a difficult time from November to January, but we played as one team with one heart and kept pushing hard. We got to third position and we said 'why not, we can go to the first position', and I was very happy when we got the promotion to the first division.
"It is a big success also for the Aspire Academy, we have a lot of good players in Qatar who can come here to play in the first division. I wish for them to come here and have the chance to make it."
Talking about the players who inspire him, Akram pointed out that former FC Barcelona captain Xavi Hernandez has helped him greatly in recent months: "Xavi is a big player and he gives me advice about how I can improve," he added.
"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."
So as he prepares for a new life in one of world football's top tiers, the Aspire Academy graduate ended by saying the experience of playing against the best in the world in Europe is something that he will greatly benefit from ahead of 2022.
"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. 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.