The former Al Sadd striker feels Qatar’s world class professionalism in hosting tournaments is coming to the fore…
Iraq’s all-time highest capped international Younis Mahmoud is a legend in his own right, having won multiple honours in his career with club and country. He has spent much of his career in Qatar, winning several trophies including the Qatar Stars League.
He has also won the Asian Cup for Iraq in 2007 where he was adjudged the topscorer and the best player of the tournament. He was also the only Iraqi player in history to have made the Ballon d’Or shortlist, when he finished 29th in 2007. It must be noted that he achieved this feat without playing club football in Europe.
As the East Zone matches of the AFC Champions League are underway in Qatar, Goal caught up with the stalwart to pick his brains on the facilities that the country has developed for the 2022 World Cup and is being utilised during this tournament.
Mahmoud is full of praises for the facilities and professionalism on offer at the World Cup venues, three of which are being used for the AFC Champions League East Zone matches currently underway in Doha.
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Q: You started your domestic club career in Qatar playing for Al Khor (2004-05) and then subsequently played for Al Wakrah (2011). What are your emotions with Qatar 2022 witnessing high-profile stadiums in both localities (namely Al Bayt and Al Janoub respectively)?
A: It was really a wonderful feeling to play Qatari league football in both Al Khor and Al Wakrah and it is incredible that the cities now have amazing 2022 FIFA World Cup stadiums. I have an even special emotional connection with Al Janoub Stadium because of the involvement of the late Zaha Hadid, who is of Iraqi origin, as its architect.
Both Al Janoub and Al Bayt are masterpieces and I am sure football fans the world over will realize this in November 2022.
Q: You are a Qatar football insider having played for numerous QSL clubs over your illustrious career and have also played for Iraq in the 2006 Asian Games and 2011 AFC Asian Cup hosted by Qatar. How do you look at Qatar having emerged the premier football hosting destination of Asia in recent times?
A: I came to play QSL at a time when the league had just started to develop and attract some top European and South American players. So you can say that I was part of the first wave of the global football development of Qatar which will culminate in the hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
I was fortunate to be able to participate in the two biggest sporting events of Asia which Qatar hosted – the Asian Games in 2006 and the AFC Asian Cup in 2011.
Having lived in Qatar for many years now, I have observed and experienced the country’s amazing hosting capabilities at close quarters. Therefore, I am not at all surprised that Qatar was able to pull off the extremely difficult task of hosting the West Zone 2020 AFC Champions League as the centralized venue during the times of COVID at short notice.
The AFC’s decision to reward Qatar with the centralized venue rights of the East Zone tournament and the final illustrates the world class professionalism with which Qatar delivered the West Zone tournament in September and early October.
Q: What are your thoughts about the Advanced Stadium Cooling Technology making such a strong impact in the 2020 AFC Champions League West Zone matches? Many top players including Al Sadd’s South Korean playmaker Nam Tae-hee and Shabab Al Ahli’s UAE defender Walid Abbas praised it to the skies. Members of the West Zone winners Perspolis were seen wrapping themselves with blankets inside the stadium with the temperature inside maintained at 22 Degrees when it was 37 outside.
A: Qatar’s stadium cooling technology is an example of wonderful innovation. Before the 2022 World Cup stadiums were built, I used to play regularly at Al Sadd SC’s Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, which used an earlier version of cooling.
I used to feel the difference in temperature inside the ground and outside and the technology was very helpful during the summer months.
It was very evident during the West Zone phase of the AFC Champions League in September that coaches and players enjoyed the different world they inhabited inside the stadium thanks to the cooling.
Not only is the latest model of cooling system a very successful innovation but it is also sustainable. I believe this technology will not just be for Qatar but will be for the whole world – it is a legacy project.
Special mention has to be given to the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy for conceptualizing this as a legacy initiative benefitting the rest of Asia and the world.
Q: In your decade-long participation in the AFC Champions League, you have played in many iconic football stadiums of the East Zone of the continent like the Beijing Workers Stadium (2004), the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium (Jakarta), Bukit Jalil National Stadium (Kuala Lumpur) and Rajmangala National Stadium (Bangkok) all in 2007 when you created history by winning the title and winning the golden boot. What is your advice to the players from the East Zone clubs playing in Doha’s iconic Khalifa International Stadium?
A: There are wonderful stadiums in the East of the continent and I won the AFC Asian Cup in 2007 playing in a few.
However, the players taking part in the 2020 AFC Champions League East Zone will find equally wonderful stadiums in Qatar. This is true especially of the Khalifa International Stadium.
I am sure all the players will enjoy the atmosphere there and everything around the stadium in the vicinity – it is a good mix of the modern and the historic. For me, it is difficult to find a stadium like the Khalifa in Asia or anywhere else in the world.
Q: Six participating clubs from the East Zone — all four from South Korea and two of the three from Japan (Vissel Kobe and Yokohama F. Marions) — have their home in FIFA World Cup stadiums purpose built for Asia’s first ever tournament co-hosted by Japan and South Korea in 2002. What is your advice to players of these clubs even as they play in venues of the second FIFA World Cup to be hosted by the AFC in 2022?
A: My advice is simple – enjoy the experience and at the same time be aware that you are part of history.
It is the honour of every professional footballer to play in FIFA World Cup stadiums. The players of Japanese and Korean clubs have played in venues that have hosted the World Cup in their home countries. Now they are having the unique opportunity of displaying their skills in venues which will host the world’s most prestigious competition.
Q: In your glittering AFC Asian Cup career, you have saved your best against derby rivals Iran scoring against them in Qatar in 2011 and in Australia in 2015. Are you looking forward to seeing Iranian giant Perspolis in the final of the 2020 AFC Champions League?
A: Indeed I am looking forward to watching Perspolis in the Final.
Perspolis have a strong squad and they played very well and deserved to reach the final. They also have an Iraqi national team player in their ranks – Bashar Resan.
I am sure that a lot of Iraqis will watch the final to see our national team player in action in the biggest game of Asian club football.
I will also watch the final. I would like to say this to whoever is the team from the east which qualifies for the final – excuse me, I will be supporting your opponents on 19 December.
Q: Last time you spoke to Goal was when Qatar national team had won the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and Almoez Ali had emerged top-scorer like you did in 2007. What is your advice to Almoez Ali, Akram Afif and captain Hassan Haydous with less than two years to go before they step out at Al Bayt Stadium on 21 November 2022 with the whole world watching?
A: Hassan Haydous, Almoez Ali, Akram Afif and their teammates in the Qatar national team are stars in Asia. All of us are gearing up for that amazing experience when the Asian champions take the field at Al Bayt Stadium to take on the best in Europe or South America.
They need to work hard, believe in their abilities and be proud of the fact that they are representing their nation on the biggest stage in front of their own countrymen.
I am very close to these players and I know they are well motivated to give their best. They have the desire to perform well. These players are good and they won the Asian title beating Japan in the final. I believe they will make an impact in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.