Doha, 15 January 2018. On Sunday afternoon, Aspire Academy organised a press conference for Claude Makelele, Head Coach of the Belgian Pro League side, K.A.S Eupen. He was joined by Abdulkarim Hassan, a graduate from Aspire Academy and a Qatar national team player, as well as Belgian goalkeeper Hendrik Van Combrugge who has recently been selected to join the Belgian national squad.
The press conference took place on the sidelines of the team’s fourth winter training camp at Aspire Academy. Organised during the players’ winter break from professional league matches, the training camp is designed to prepare the team for the second half of the 2017-2018 season ahead of their return to Belgium on January 15th.
Claude Makelele, the former Real Madrid and Chelsea midfielder assumed responsibility as coach at Aspire Academy owned KAS Eupen from Jordi Auli Condom last November. Under his supervision, the team has enjoyed a recent run of positive results but is battling hard to remain to avoid relegation. Commenting on their position in the Belgian Pro League, Makelele stressed the importance of ‘staying positive’ in spite of the challenges ahead.
One of the players that were recently signed by the club, is the 23-year-old Japanese striker Yuta Toyokawa who transferred from Leeds United on loan. Speaking about his new player, Makelele praised Toyokawa’s willingness to listen and learn and said that he expects good things from the young striker. He added that playing in the Belgian Pro League will be excellent experience for him against bigger, more experienced players.
With a squad of 24 players, including Qatari international Abdulkarim Hassan, K.A.S Eupen features a number of Aspire Academy graduates including Abdollah Ali Saei and Ahmed Homam Elamin. Their fellow Qatari teammates at the club Akram Afif, Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, Youssef Aymam Farahatand and Assim Madibo, are currently on international duty with Qatar’s U-23 team at the U-23 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Championships in China. Speaking about the performance of his Qatari players at the press conference, Makelele added: “They’ve been doing really well. There’s still more to be done to help them grow as players and play their part in the Qatar national football team. But I think their experience with KAS Eupen will help them develop the right outlook and attitude.”
Qatari player Abdulkarim Hassan acknowledged that there’s increasing pressure on the Qatari national team to perform well at major competitions as the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ draws near, saying: “As Qatari players, we experience pressure during major tournaments because there is an expectation on us to achieve good results. Especially since we’ll soon be representing Qatar at the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™. The pressure will always be there. All we can do is give our all in order to achieve the best possible result we can, and hope for the best. Thankfully, organisations like Aspire Academy support our development by, for example, giving us opportunities to join and train with international clubs like K.A.S Eupen. Our Olympic football team is currently performing really well at the AFC U-23 championship and I wish them the best of luck in their match against China on Monday.”
Speaking about his experience at KAS Eupen, Abdulkarim said: “It’s definitely a different set up to that which we had at Al Sadd SC. But it’ll be a good learning experience that’ll help improve my game in the future, and which in turn will benefit the national team. I like challenges, and I’m ready to fight for my dreams.”
Meanwhile Belgian goalkeeper, Hendrik Van Combrugge, who returns to Aspire Academy this year for the fifth time, said: “One of the key benefits of this winter training camp is that it gives us time to recover mentally and physically by taking some distance away from Belgium and our daily routine. The time we spend here is perfect for us as players as we benefit from sessions with the coaches where we really get to have some quality time with them. Since we arrived, we’ve had training sessions two or three times each day.”
The press conference was attended by Chief Advisor of International Football Affairs at Aspire Zone Foundation and KAS Eupen FC Board member Andreas Bleicher, KAS Eupen’s Director General Christoph Henkel, Director of Finance, Legal and Administration Thomas Herbert and Marketing and Merchandising Manager Andre Palm.