Doha: In-form Qatar will meet Algeria at the Al Thumama Stadium on Wednesday in what promises to be an exciting semi-final showdown. Al-Annabi (The Maroons) have maintained their perfect start to the FIFA Arab Cup™, winning all three of their group games and following that up with a resounding 5-0 win over UAE in the quarter-final.
In their quest to reach the decider, Qatar will be relying upon their prolific forwards, Almoez Ali and Akram Afif. Between them they have scored five times, almost half of their team's goals. Veteran midfielder Abdulaziz Hatem also plays a crucial role and has consistently performed for Al-Annabi in major tournaments over the last two years.
Hatem it was who stole the headlines after the 2019 AFC Cup quarter-final, when his blistering strike from distance earned Qatar a maiden semi-final berth. Then he was back for more in the final against Japan, netting his side’s second from outside the box en route to their first AFC Asian Cup crown.
Hatem seems to be somewhat of a long-range specialist, with history repeating itself this July with his stunning long-range strike against El Salvador in the Concacaf Gold Cup quarter-final. The 31-year-old addressed his flair for scoring world-class goals in big matches, saying: “It’s a great feeling for any player to score in big games. There’s no secret to it, only hard work and God’s will.”
Hatem admitted that he regularly practices long distance shots in training, with the hard work paying dividends on the pitch. His goal against Al Abyad was a first-time shot from the edge of the box that curled past the motionless Ali Khaseif into his top-left corner.
“I normally practice my distance shooting after training so that when t he chance presents itself in a match, I’m ready. It’s part of the job for a midfielder to shoot from outside the area. Of course, the faith that my coachand team-mates have in my abilities gives me the confidence to shoot. Sometimes I score, sometimes I miss."
Tough path to the final
Qatar have faced four Gulf teams in the tournament so far: Bahrain, Oman, Iraq and UAE. Now all that stands between them and a place in the final, which will be held at Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday 18 December, are Algeria.
Hatem knows the challenge that awaits them against the AFCON 2019 winners, saying: “Algeria are a strong team with a different style of play to those we’ve faced so far. No doubt it will be a tough match because they’re African champions and on a good run of form.
“We relish these sorts of challenges and will no doubt benefit from playing against different styles before the World Cup. The best team on the day will reach the final and we hope it’s us."
Hatem, who struck the first ever goal at Al Bayt Stadium, has happy memories there and hopes to score once again.
On the possibility of returning to Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday, he said, “It’s an amazing venue and I’ve been lucky enough to score there twice. I’m proud to be the first ever player to score at this stadium, where the opening game of the World Cup will be held next year.
"We feel at home when we play there and I hope we get the chance to try and win the final there and that I can get amongst the goals," he concluded.
If he gets the chance to score, it will no doubt be spectacular, adding to the ever-growing list of goals he has scored on the big occasion.