HONGKONG (Reuters) – World Cup winner Xavi Hernandez expects big things from newly crowned Asian Player of the Year Akram Afif after the Qatari striker was named the continent’s leading player by the Asian Football Confederation on Monday.
Former Barcelona midfielder Xavi, a four-times UEFA Champions League winner as well as a 2010 world champion with Spain, works daily with 23-year-old Afif after making the long-awaited start to his coaching career in the summer with Qatar’s Al Sadd club.
And Xavi, who led Al Sadd to the semi-finals of this year’s Asian Champions League, believes Afif can build on his strong start to life in the professional ranks.
“I have to say congratulations to Akram Afif. (The award is) well deserved because his performance was amazing in both sides,” said Xavi, referring to the national team lifting the Asian Cup and Al Sadd’s run in the Champions League.
“It was a big regret we couldn’t reach the final, but he was making a difference in the national team and for the club, so I think it’s well deserved.”
Afif has long been touted as one of the most promising talents in the region and has had spells in Belgium with Eupen and in Spain with Sporting Gijon before joining Al Sadd last year.
“With this kind of talent, he has many ambitions,” Xavi said. “He’s still young and I think he can do many things in his career.”
Afif is one of a growing number of standout performers from Qatar and is the second player in succession – following on from Al Sadd club mate Abdelkareem Hassan – to be named the continent’s leading player by the confederation.
That growing production line has Xavi believing the 2022 World Cup hosts will be more than capable of making an impact at the finals on home soil in three years’ time.
“I think they are working really well,” the Spaniard said. “They have a very good team, also a very good coach and they are very well organised on the pitch.
“They have a very, very good generation of young players, not only Akram – he’s one of the best – but also Almoez Ali, Boualam Khouki.
“I think they’re working really well and can compete in 2022 for sure.”
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by David Goodman)