Every footballer on the planet dreams of one thing when they grow up, and that is to represent their nation at a World Cup. It is the pinnacle of the game and the greatest honour a player can receive.
Even more special for a player is playing in a World Cup in your home country, on your home soil in front of your own adoring fans. There is nothing quite like it. It is something very few players get to experience in their careers and those that do cherish the memories forever.
For a young boy from Abu Hamour on the outskirts of Doha, just appearing in a World Cup was a dream most would’ve considered impossible growing up, let alone playing in one on home soil.
But for 23 lucky Qataris that honour will come their way in 2022 when their nation becomes the first from the Middle East to host the quadrennial football showpiece, and one of those hoping to be there is left-back Abdelkarim Hassan.
“Not (just) for me (but) for everyone, all of us are excited to be there and from now we prepare ourselves for this big World Cup. I will be proud to be there and to represent my country,” he exclusively told The Sports Journal.
The 23-year-old, who has just inked a deal to move to Belgian club KAS Eupen, has been one of the standout performers in Qatar for the last few seasons, and was named the Qatar Stars League Young Player of the Year in 2012/13, the same season he helped Al Sadd win the QSL title.
Despite his tender age he already has 60 national team caps to his name, having made his debut against Haiti in November 2010, and with Al-Annabi about to transition to a team from the ‘next-generation’ he looks set for a long and illustrious career in the maroon shirt.
Just two weeks after his international debut, which Qatar lost 1-0, came the shock announcement of Qatar as the host for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and like most Qataris, Hassan remembers where he was and what he was doing when the announcement was made.
“I was at training with my teammates at Al Sadd Club and that was around 6:30pm,” he recalled. “And the moment that they announced that World Cup will be in Qatar everyone went crazy on the field and we started to run and jump, it was an amazing day.”
After a decade with Al Sadd at both youth and senior level, where he has helped Al Sadd win every title possible, including the 2011 AFC Champions League, Hassan will now embark on his biggest journey yet, signing with KAS Eupen, the Aspire-owned club in Belgium’s top flight, as he looks to take his game to the next level.
Hassan has impressed with his performances for both Qatar’s underage and senior teams over the last 24 months, especially his performances as captain at the 2016 AFC U23 Championships in Qatar, which included four goals in the group stage and one of the goals of the tournament in the opening match against China.
But the Aspire Academy graduate knows that he needs to develop his game further and Europe is the best place to do just that.
With his move to Belgium, the 23-year-old also sees himself as a pioneer for his country, wanting to change the perception of Qatari footballers in the hope that more players can follow in his footsteps in the years ahead.
“It’s a great opportunity for me as a Qatari to be in a European league,” he told The Sports Journal from Belgium. “From this opportunity I want to show the world that Qatar also has good players the can be in Europe.
“It’s a pleasure for me and for any player to be here and I hope that I represent my country in Europe in a good way.”
Hassan won’t be alone in Belgium, he will be joined by fellow Qataris Akram Afif, Assim Madibo and Hamza Sanhaji. Their moves are part of a much larger push to see more Qatari players playing in Europe in the lead up to 2022 to ensure the national team is competitive on home soil.
Hassan, who could very well captain Qatar in 2022, is under no illusions as to the task ahead, however, he knows he must work hard to prove himself and he expects the transition from Doha to Eupen to be difficult, especially as this is the first time he will play outside his homeland.
“As you know it’s the first time for me here in a European league and it will be hard for me, but I will do my best and fight to show myself,” he said.
Hassan admitted playing in Europe was a dream of his as a child. While that is now a reality, the biggest dream of all awaits.