Ones to Watch: Akram Afif (Qatar)
Kuala Lumpur: After a breakthrough season in which he helped Al Sadd reach the 2018 AFC Champions League semi-finals, Akram Afif is set to take on his first AFC Asian Cup next month.
Despite being just 22, Akram Afif already has playing experience in Belgium and Spain, the Qatari midfielder will look to cement his status as one of Asia's top talents during January's AFC Asian Cup.
Date of birth: 18/11/1996
Current club: Al Sadd (Qatar)
Previous clubs: Eupen (Belgium), Villarreal, Sporting Gijon (both Spain)
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Afif was already a star for Qatar at the youth level, taking the nation’s U-19 team all the way to the 2014 AFC U-19 Championship final, where he scored one of his tournament total of four goals to help them clinch the trophy against DPR Korea.
His senior debut came a year later when coach Daniel Carreno called him up ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. A lone goal in the 15-0 thrashing of Bhutan was enough to kickstart his international career, as he would go onto score ten more in 35 appearances, most recently in the 1-0 friendly win over Switzerland.
Style of play
Afif primarily operates in the whole behind the attack line, creating scoring chances as well as carving ones for himself. He has also frequently been used on the left flank where he cuts inside onto his right foot to attempt long range shots or deliver in-swinging crosses.
Since joining Al Sadd, Afif has developed a telepathic understanding with fellow attacking midfielder Hassan Al Haydos, which sees the pair make up a core creative force for club and country.
What to look for
In their final major tournament ahead of hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar will look to better their best-ever AFC Asian Cup performance, reaching the quarter-finals in 2000 and 2011. Standing in their way will be three-time winners Saudi Arabia as well as DPR Korea and Lebanon.
For Afif, this will be his first international tournament at the senior level, and with his loan deal from Villarreal to Al Sadd running out in June, he will look to impress his parent club in the hope of booking a place in the Yellow Submarines' squad for the 2019-2020 La Liga season.
Where and when to watch him:
Qatar v Lebanon
Venue: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: January 9, 20:00 UTC+4
Qatar v DPR Korea
Venue: Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: January 13, 15:00 UTC+4
Qatar v Saudi Arabia
Venue: Zayed Sport City, Abu Dhabi
Kick-off: January 17, 20:00 UTC+4
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