The Gulf Times – DOHA, The 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar – the first ever staged in the Middle East – could throw up a Golden Ball competitor from the region should ‘Iranian Messi’ Sardar Azmoun realise his dream.
As Qatar prepare to take on Iran in a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier tomorrow, the 22-year-old striker revealed his 2022 ambition – reaching the semi-finals.
“My goal is to help ‘Team Melli’ qualify for the 2022 World Cup but it does not end there,” said Azmoun. “The tournament will give me an opportunity to figure among the tournament’s best players. I also hope we can replicate South Korea’s 2002 semi-final performance. Iranian football has a lot of young talent and the potential for such success.”
The exciting striker plies his trade for Russian Football Premier League side FC Rostov, and is considered by many Asian football experts as the continent’s hottest forward, along with South Korea and Tottenham’s Son Heung-min.
Azmoun, who scored a spectacular goal as his club took the scalp of Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League last November, exclusively told www.sc.qa that the first ever FIFA World Cup in the Middle East will feel like a home tournament and elaborated upon his 2022 dreams.
“The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be a great one,” said Azmoun, who has scored 16 international goals in 23 appearances. “It would feel like a home World Cup for us. It would be fantastic to qualify for the tournament, as our fans could easily travel to Doha and we’ll receive fantastic support.” Despite scoring against German giants Bayern Munich in the world’s top club competition, Azmoun’s vote for the best goal of his young career goes to his strike against Qatar in Iran’s 1-0 group win at the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015.
Many would consider this a surprising choice for a recent Liverpool target, whose dazzling turn had sent Bayern Munich centre-back Jerome Boateng sprawling before he scored, in a piece of play reminiscent of the 2015 UEFA Champions League semifinal goal scored by the man after whom he is nicknamed.
Azmoun has strong emotional reasons for his choice. “I’ve got wonderful memories of the Asian Cup game against Qatar in Sydney and that goal,” he said. “I made my first official start for Iran in that game, which made me and my family very proud. It has been the best goal of my career so far.”
Azmoun, who also scored against Atletico Madrid in this season’s UEFA Champions League, concluded by asserting he will be playing for a top European club in the near future, but will move from Rostov only if he is convinced he will improve his skills.
“There were talks of Liverpool having expressed an interest in me during the past winter transfer window,” said the Iranian. “However, I did not feel the time to move was right. I would have ended up playing a few games and then spent a great deal of time on the bench as Liverpool were only looking to fill a void for a particular part of their season.
“I want to move to a big club to develop as a player and therefore I will time the move with great precision. I am sure I will be playing for a top European club in the near future.”
Azmoun has the talent to back up his confidence, and on Thursday, Qatar fans might well forget their national loyalties for a while to enjoy the skills of a global superstar in the making.