Al Janoub is one of the World Cup venues which is currently being used in the 2020 AFC Champions League…
Guangzhou Evergrande forward Ai Kesen was massively impressed after playing at 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar venue Al Janoub Stadium in the ongoing AFC Champions League. He now aims to return to the venue in two years with the Chinese national team to once again set foot in this stadium.
After putting in a man-of-the-match performance against Japanese club Vissel Kobe in Group G of the 2020 AFC Champions League, Ai Kesen admitted that a lot of hard work lay ahead for Li Tie’s team to realize the dream.
“The stadium is amazing and as a player every chance to get to play in such good facilities is welcome,” said Ai Kesen, who scored a sublime free-kick during his side’s 2-0 win. The strike takes his AFC Champions League career tally to 31, six shy of the tournament record held by the recently retired South Korean veteran forward Lee Dong-gook.
“I know this [Al Janoub Stadium] is going to be a stadium for the World Cup. As a member of the Chinese national team, of course it is my dream to come back with my team here in two years for the World Cup.”
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Ai Kesen had become the first-ever player without Chinese ancestry to play for the national team when he was called up for the national team in 2019 for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers after having completed his naturalization process.
He has scored three goals after playing in all four qualifiers played till November 2019 with the outbreak of the COVID pandemic postponing the remaining fixtures which will resume in March 2021.
However, Ai Kesen has been a prolific presence in Chinese football from 2013 when he first joined Guangzhou Evergrande. He has won five Chinese Super League titles since then – a total of four of them with his current club in two separate spells and one with Shanghai SIPG.
The 31-year-old was also a member of the Guangzhou Evergrande side which won the AFC Champions League in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
Despite being a high-flyer in club football, the Brazilian-born forward realizes that international football is a different challenge altogether and qualifying for Asia’s second FIFA World Cup is still a long way.
“We know we have a tough road ahead,” said Ai Kesen. “It is going to be very difficult but we don’t want to give up and we still want to continue to dream.”
China are currently placed second in Group A of the second round of Asian qualifiers with seven points from four matches – third-placed Philippines have an equal number of points but have played an extra game. Ai Kesen and his teammates will also have the advantage of playing on home soil in a potentially winner-takes-all game against the ‘Azkals’ in June 2021.
Al Janoub Stadium is one of the three fully completed 2022 FIFA World Cup venues which are being used in the 2020 AFC Champions League, of which Qatar are the centralized hosting venue following the disruption of the original home and away format due to the outbreak of the global COVID pandemic in March this year.
The 40,000-capacity stadium, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, will host 2022 FIFA World Cup matches till the quarterfinal and was formally inaugurated in May 2019. Al Janoub Stadium, located in the southern coastal city of Al Wakrah, has hosted 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and 2019 Gulf Cup games prior to being chosen as a venue for the centralized AFC Champions League.