Qatar hero Afif eyes Europe after final hat trick


LUSAIL, Doha — After netting a hat trick in Qatar‘s 3-2 Asian Cup final win over Jordan, Akram Afif has said that he’d be open to playing in Europe again but that the decision is not his alone to make, with his immediate focus celebrating a second-straight title.

Winning two of them himself, Afif scored a hat trick of penalties as Qatar surged past Jordan at the Lusail Stadium on Saturday, becoming just the fifth Asian nation to defend their continental crown.

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It capped off a tournament in which the 27-year-old was a dominant force for the Maroons, scoring eight goals to secure the Golden Boot, finishing as equal leader in assists with three and being comfortably named player of the tournament.

Though previously logging stints with clubs in Spain and Belgium, Afif has been attached to Qatari Stars League powers Al Saad since 2018, where he has been the subject of frequent speculation as he established himself as one of Asia’s best attackers with his standout form at a domestic and international level.

“Moving to Europe is something all players want but this is a decision which has to be made with great consideration,” he said post-final, speaking through a translator.

“It’s not me who decides. My wife also has to make the decision with me, it’s not easy to leave the club and country.

“It’s destiny. If it’s meant to be then it’s meant to be.

“It’s a difficult answer, I’d say I would love to go.

“But what I do know is we won back-to-back [Asian Cups], we’re happy and we will enjoy until the next Asian Cup.”

Staging the delayed tournament after initial hosts China withdrew, the back-to-back Asian Cups helped Qatar exorcise some demons of their disastrous 2022 World Cup, where they lost all three group games and were eliminated faster than any other host nation in history.

They managed this despite some sputtering form across 2023 and the departure of coach Carlos Queiroz just a month out from the tournament, with Al-Wakrah boss Tintín Márquez parachuted in on Christmas Eve to take over.

“Maybe we didn’t play beautiful football today but everyone remembers the winner. I’m so happy for Akram, he deserved to win all the awards,” Márquez said through a translator.

“What will happen is that I’m going to go back to Al-Wakrah and we will talk about the future.

“I don’t know what will happen in the future, now we will enjoy and celebrate.

“Working with the national team is different. Working with clubs is daily. I took charge just recently before the beginning of the tournament.

“What was important was that I knew the players and they implemented my ideals very fast.

“While some matches fell short of expectations, others exceeded them. Ultimately, it was the players’ execution of the plans and ideas that made the difference.”

For Jordan, the defeat marked the painful end of what has otherwise been a fairytale tournament, the Chivalrous Ones previously stunning Jürgen Klinsmann’s South Korea 2-0 in the semifinal having previously never progressed past the knockouts.

“We have gained respect,” coach Hussein Ammouta said through a translator. “The team has developed very well and opened new horizons in the future.”

“The penalties came at a time that didn’t allow us to come back. That’s football, when mistakes happen, especially in defence.

“We congratulate our players who played a very good tournament.”

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