Top Asian players said they were looking forward to a “brilliant” 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Saturday despite the rows that have blown up over the tournament.
Prolific striker Nassir Al Shamrani and fellow Asian player of the year nominee Ismail Ahmed said the Gulf state fully deserved to host the event, shrugging off continuing controversies.
“I assure you that Qatar deserves to host World Cup 2022,” Al Shamrani told a press conference for the three shortlisted players, which also includes Qatari Khalfan Ibrahim.
“This is proof enough that football in the Gulf has developed a lot. Qatar does not just represent the Gulf but also represents the Arab world and all Asian nations,” added the Saudi striker.
A probe into the awarding of Qatar and Russia (2018) as World Cup hosts plunged FIFA into fresh controversy when investigator Michael Garcia said the world body had misrepresented his findings.
FIFA has come under pressure to publish the report in full, while the head of Germany’s football league became the latest to demand the resignation of the world body’s president, Sepp Blatter.
There is also uncertainty about the timing of the World Cup in tiny, resource-rich Qatar, after moves to avoid the desert summer by playing it in winter met stiff resistance.
But award nominee Ahmed, who plays for Al Sadd in UAE, told journalists: “It’s an an honour for Arab (countries) and Asia. We wish to have a brilliant and excellent World Cup in 2022.”
– Spitting controversy –
The theme is likely to be prominent at Sunday’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) awards and 60th anniversary celebrations in Manila, where Blatter will be among the guests.
AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa is also the head of a taskforce looking into whether the Qatar World Cup should be held in winter.
Meanwhile Al Shamrani is hoping a controversial incident at the AFC Champions League final when he spat on Matthew Spiranovic of the Western Sydney Wanderers and caused a melee, will not harm his award chances.
The 31-year-old, who hit 10 goals in the tournament before Al Hilal’s bad-tempered defeat to the Wanderers, defended himself by saying he had been provoked by abusive language.
“I don’t expect I’ll lose the chance to win this trophy. Actually I was provoked by the player from Sydney,” he said.
“It’s a normal reaction for a player sometimes. He actually used abusive words, that provoked me.”
Al Hilal have cried foul over their 1-0 defeat over two legs, calling it a “black spot in the history of football” and demanding an investigation.
The Saudis said they were denied six penalties and hit out at the choice of Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura, roundly condemned for giving Brazil a soft penalty at this year’s World Cup, for the second leg.
Ibrahim, 26, won the award in 2006 and was nominated again on the back of a strong season for Al Sadd. Centre back Ahmed, 31, helped his team Al Ain reach the Champions League semi-finals.
There were no nominations for players from Western Sydney Wanderers, despite the club’s feat in becoming Australia’s first Champions League winners on what was their debut in the tournament.
Europe-based stars and World Cup players from Australia, Japan, South Korea and Iran were also overlooked, perhaps owing to the AFC’s rule that only players who attend the ceremony can win the award.