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AFP
December 3, 2019

Xavi backs Qatar to compete at World Cup after Akram Afif award

Sports

AFP
December 3, 2019

HONG KONG: Barcelona legend and Al Sadd coach Xavi backed hosts Qatar to make an impression at the next World Cup after exciting forward Akram Afif was named Asian player of the year on Monday.

Doha-based Xavi, who collected the award on Afif’s behalf at the Asian Football Confederation awards in Hong Kong, said the Qataris would be competitive in 2022 “for sure”.

Japan’s Saki Kumagai was rewarded for a glittering career for club and country as she was named women’s player of the year at the ceremony in protest-hit Hong Kong.

Afif, 23, made a record 10 assists as Qatar stormed to their first Asian Cup title in February. Afif also helped Xavi’s Al Sadd reach the AFC Champions League semi-finals, where they lost to Saudi eventual winners Al Hilal 6-5 on aggregate.

“I think they are working very well, they are competing against very big countries,” Xavi, who won the 2010 World Cup with Spain, said of Qatar. “I think they have a very good team and also a very good coach. They are well organised on the pitch and they have a very good generation of players... Many players that can make the difference on the pitch.

“They are working really well and they can compete in 2022 for sure.” Afif, who beat Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and Japan defender Tomoaki Makino to the honour, is the second Qatari in a row to win the men’s prize after defender Abdelkarim Hassan last year.

His award comes exactly nine years after Qatar were named as surprise World Cup hosts. Kumagai, 29, has established herself as one of the greats of women’s football after she scored the winning penalty in Japan’s 2011 Women’s World Cup victory.

She then helped the Nadeshiko finish runners-up at the 2012 Olympics and 2015 World Cup, and led her country to the Asian Cup title last year. Kumagai has also enjoyed a golden run with her club side Lyon, winning six French league titles and four Champions League trophies.

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