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Kuala Lumpur: There is something special about a player who is able to command respect throughout Asia despite not winning a continental title with club or country.

Yasser Al Qahtani manages that because his record speaks for itself - anyone who has witnessed his rise since a record transfer to Al Hilal in 2005, can vouch for what he means to Saudi Arabia football.

In the week in which he turned 35 years old, the-AFC.com takes a look back at Al Qahtani's career in the latest addition to our 'Asian Icons' series.

Age: 35
Clubs: Al Qadsiah, Al Hilal, Al Ain (loan)
International Appearances (Goals): 112 (42)
AFC Player of the Year: 2007

The beginnings in Al Khobar

Born on 10 October 1982 in the city of Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, Yasser Al Qahtani's first steps in football were actually not on a football pitch.

Instead, it was on a futsal court that the future Saudi legend first showed his promise as a child.

Attention from the big clubs in the region soon followed.

Dammam-based Al Ettifaq were one of the first clubs to court him but however, it was Al Qadsiah from Al Khobar who got their man.

An 18-year old Al Qahtani thus signed his first professional contract with his hometown club, taking a step onto the big stage.

From then on, Al Qahtani's rise was swift.

After starring in the successful promotion campaign of 2001-02, he averaged a goal every two games in the 2002-03 season which saw Al Qadsiah come within two wins of the Saudi Premier League title.

Eighteen goals in 27 appearances over the next two seasons meant that Al Qahtani was now hot property.

Playing for his country

While his form at Al Qadsiah caught the eye, Al Qahtani also made his mark on the international scene.

After making his debut for the Green Falcons against neighbours Bahrain in December 2002, he quickly got down to business. 

By the time Al Qahtani made his big-money move to Saudi giants Al Hilal in the summer of 2005, he had already scored 14 times for his country.

Al Qahtani's burgeoning reputation as a reliable goalscorer made him one of the first names on the team sheets.

After scoring thrice in Saudi Arabia's Gulf Cup win in 2003, he went on to make his first appearance at a major international tournament in 2004, when he represented his country at the AFC Asian Cup in China.

Although he netted twice in a group stage fixture against Turkmenistan, the Saudis crashed out after finishing third. 

A record transfer

In many ways, Al Qahtani's move to Al Hilal in the summer of 2005 grabbed headlines in Saudi Arabia. For one, he broke the Saudi transfer record at the age of 23.

In addition to that, it was by now evident that Al Hilal had brought in Al Qahtani to be the man to take them forward, with club legends like Sami Al Jaber and Nawaf Al Temyat at the twilight of their careers. 

After a rather slow start, Al Qahtani soon earned a place with supporters' hearts with immense goalscoring form.

By now, he had come to be known as 'the Sniper' and it was for good reason. Over the next six seasons, Al Qahtani scored 85 goals for the blue side of Riyadh.

In the process, he won three league titles and five Crown Prince Cups while an Asian title still eluded the former continental champions.

Individual milestones

It was in the mid-2000s that Al Qahtani took on the mantle of the talisman for the Saudi national team after the retirement of Sami Al Jaber.

However, that wasn't before he played alongside the Saudi legend at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

The Green Falcons went to Germany after an unbeaten qualifying campaign, in which Al Qahtani scored against Indonesia, Turkmenistan and Korea Republic.

At the finals, he went on to become only the sixth Saudi player in history to score at a FIFA World Cup, with his goal against Tunisia in a 2-2 draw in Munich.

The group stage exit at the World Cup was soon forgotten as Al Qahtani then took up the captaincy of the national team ahead of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup.

The Sniper was in top form as he netted four times in the tournament to finish as joint top-scorer as Saudi Arabia went all the way to the final.

Despite the disappointing 1-0 loss to Iraq in the final, Al Qahtani's form was rewarded with the AFC Asian Player of the Year title at the end of the year.

A sojourn in Al Ain

In 2011, a 29-year old Al Qahtani surprised Saudi Arabia and the wider region when he moved to UAE's Al Ain on a one-year loan.

Apparently, he wanted a move away from the pressure of playing at home and subsequently, the loan deal to the 2003 AFC Champions League winners was finalised.

At Al Ain, Al Qahtani linked up with Ghanaian marksman Asamoah Gyan and upcoming Emirati star and future Asian Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman.

The purple-clad UAE giants went on to win the league title and Al Qahtani scored 12 goals in 23 appearances, including a brace in the decisive 2-0 win over Al Jazira, as he added another feather to his cap.

On his return to Saudi Arabia, Al Qahtani proved to be more ruthless than ever before.

In his first season back, he struck 13 times in 20 matches, which was a personal record and made him the highest scoring Saudi player in the league that year. 

Disappointing exits

Al Qahtani's dream of making it to a second successive FIFA World Cup was extinguished in the most dramatic of fashions in 2009 when Saudi Arabia lost out to Bahrain in the continental play-off.

With Saudi leading 2-1 in injury time, Al Qahtani watched in horror as Bahrain equalised and went through on away goals. 

A year later, Al Qahtani captained Saudi Arabia at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.

Once again, disappointment followed as the three-time Asian champions crashed out in the group stage after finishing bottom of the group with three defeats in three games.

After initially announcing his international retirement in 2012, Al Qahtani went back on the decision and played for Saudi Arabia at the 2013 Gulf Cup.

Although he scored against Yemen, the Saudi campaign ended with another group stage exit.

The curtain thus came down on an eventful international career for one of Saudi Arabia's greatest players.

Recent years

 

In recent years, Al Qahtani's star has faded a little with age but that hasn't meant he has stopped scoring.

In the hunt for the coveted AFC Champions League title, Al Qahtani scored twice in Al Hilal's ultimately unsuccessful run to the final in 2014. 

With his side trailing 0-1 on aggregate to Western Sydney Wanderers in the final, the Sniper came on as a late substitute and could have turned the game around in injury time.

However, his fierce strike was kept out by keeper Ante Covic, as the Australians stood their ground to deny Al Hilal.

Al Qahtani was still around as a 33-year old when he turned back the clock with a four-goal show against Hajer in May 2016.

The following year saw Al Hilal pick up their first league title in six years, with Al Qahtani contributing with four goals.

Despite being ravaged by injuries at this stage of his career, the former futsal star from Al Khobar is still fighting to be fit and back in Al Hilal colours once again.

Whenever he decides to hang up his boots, he can look back proudly at a career that made him a true Asian icon. 

Photos: Getty Images

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