DOHA: In front of a packed house at the Khalifa International Stadium on Monday evening and watched by the Qatar Olympic Committee President HH Sheikh Joaan Al Hamad Al Thani, Akram Afif celebrated his Asia’s Best Player of the Year award in style.
His double strike including one from the spot knocked the stuff out of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in their last Group A game at the 24th Arab Gulf Cup.
Qatar national coach Felix Sanchez said he was thrilled to celebrate his team’s 4-2 victory against UAE.
“We’re happy for Akram. Football is life for him. He’s a very working hard guy,” said Felix of his protégé, whom he groomed at the Aspire Academy along with another current Qatari star Almoez Ali among others.
Akram’s success best ad for Qatar football
The Spaniard can claim to play a big role in Akram’s rise to become one of Qatar and Asia’s top stars in over five years since winning the Asian U19 Championships in Myanmar.
Akram, then a precocious talent, scored the only goal in the final against North Korea in the continental youth competition.
In five years, Akram has become the best ad for Qatar football and Aspire Academy.
At the AFC Asian Cup in January this year, the Villareal striker, who is on loan at Al Sadd, produced 10 assists -- most in the tournament’s history.
Today, the 23-year-old is hailed as one of the best footballers Qatar has produced in the last one decade.
Re-affirms superiority with a double strike
In the space of eight minutes against the Emiratis, Akram re-affirmed his superiority bestowed on him by the AFC.
“Akram deserves every bit of praise. He motivates his team-mates and is a bundle of positive energy. Today, we are all happy for him,” said Felix, who is also the Olympic team coach.
His first goal was all about class and aggression -- he pounced on the ball in a flash after it deflected off Mohammed Marzooq following a chase by Almoez Ali.
Akram then drilled the ball past the UAE keeper Mohamed Al Shamsi to kick off a celebration that continued after he added his and team’s second from the spot eight minutes later.
“I chose to celebrate after the first goal because it was a special one for all of us,” said Felix, who guided the Annabis to their maiden Asian Cup title in
Aspire Academy’s claim to fame
Football has seen an upsurge since Qatar won the FIFA World Cup bid in 2010.
Its youth development projects at the Aspire Academy has done wonders for Qatar, who has now become a force to reckon with in the continent and in the region.
In fact, Akram and some of his junior team-mates who learned their nuances under Felix were benefited by such junior programmes.
“There has been a tremendous improvement by our teams in recent years due to the youth promotion. The hard work has reaped great results in these last five years,” added Felix.
Follow Mohammad Aminul Islam on Twitter: @mdamins