When he was called up to Qatar’s U-19 squad in 2014, aged only 16, Tarek Salman could not have imagined the success he would achieve over the next seven years, with the best perhaps still to come at next year’s FIFA World Cup.
Fresh from helping his country lift the AFC U-19 Championship 2014, Salman played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 and then made his full international debut for Qatar in 2017. Two years later, he was part of the squad that won the AFC Asian Cup.
After featuring at the Copa America later that year and the Concacaf Gold Cup 2021, he will now represent his country at the FIFA Arab Cup, which kicked off yesterday.
Reflecting on the start of his international career, he said: “It was a special experience, an utterly amazing one for me on a personal level. And that was thanks to a coach who had faith in me and gave me support and total respect: Felix Sanchez. He motivated me to perform well for the youth team in the Asian Championship and then gave me my debut with the full national team.”
Salman went on to say that in showing faith in the side, the Spanish coach got the very best out of Qatar’s star players and played a crucial part in their Asian Cup 2019 conquest.
“The whole team played so well at the Asian Cup, and the secret to that was the confidence that the coach gave the players, especially the young ones, both before, during and after the tournament,” he said. “That was the key to the success of most of the young players in the team.”
Salman went on to play at the Copa America that year and the Gold Cup earlier this year. The opportunity to compete against South American teams helped him develop as a player.
“The Copa America was a great experience because we came up against some very strong sides with quality players, most of whom play in the big leagues,” he said. “We played against teams that had won the Copa America before. I played in two different positions in the tournament – left-back and centre-half – which really developed my game.”
Salman began his professional career in Spain, where he had two brief loan spells before moving to current employers Al Sadd, winning two Qatari league titles with them so far. Looking back on his time in Spain, Salman said it helped make him the player he is today.
“Playing in Spain was crucial for me,” he said. “It’s important to be exposed to different types of football to our own. The atmosphere and the culture are different. I made a big effort to adapt to all those factors, but I’m glad I went through that experience because it really helped with my development, both on and off the pitch.”
Salman said Qatar are raring to go at the Arab Cup and is hopeful that they can inspire the fans to get behind them. “We’re very excited and we want to go far at the Arab Cup,” said Salman.
“I hope the fans give us their unconditional support in every game, regardless of results. The players need to have the fans behind them if they are to go as far as possible in the tournament.”
Asked about the unique opportunity that the players taking part in the Arab Cup will have in running out at the stadiums that will host next year’s world finals, Salman said: “We’re proud to be the ones who will open most of these stadiums. The Arab Cup will give us a fantastic opportunity to show the world that we’re completely ready to host the World Cup. I hope Qatar lives up to everyone’s expectations.”
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