NAME: Khalfan Ibrahim
BORN: 18 February 1988 in Doha
HEIGHT: 1.65 m
WEIGHT: 60 kg.
POSITION: Striker / attacking midfielder
CLUBS: Until 2001: Al Arabi (Qatar), since 2001: Al Saad (Qatar)
HONORS: Played in FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005, AFC Asian Cup 2007 qualifiers, AFC Champions League, Qatar League (winner 2006), Qatar Emir’s Cup
MISCELLANEOUS: Khalfan’s nickname is “Khalfaninho” and his father Ibrahim Khalfan, is a former Qatar international.
IN HIS FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS
Young Qatari striker Khalfan Ibrahim, a discovery of Bora Milutinovic, was elected
AFC Player of the year 2006.
It was entirely in keeping with Khalfan Ibrahim’s shy and modest character that the Qatari teenager trotted up to the stage to collect the glittering AFS Player of the Year trophy, respectfully nodded to the dignitaries by way of a thank you and returned to his seat in the audience without making the customary winner’s speech amid the ringing applause.
It might have seemed a glaring breach of protocol to some, but for those who have been following Khalfan’s blossoming career it was hardly a surprise. For the Qatari striker is known as a man of few words and is only too eager to flee the limelight.
A day before the AFC Annual Awards gala, the self-effacing Khalfan had declared himself a rank outsider in the race to be named as the best player in Asia with touching naivety, tipping his rivals, the experienced Badr Al Mutawa of Kuwait and Mohamed Al Shlhoub of Saudi Arabia, as the front runners. “I am only 18 years old and still have a long way to go. I think the other two nominees have a better chance since they have played longer than I have,” says Khalfan in response to a question at the packed media conference.
THE STANDOUT PLAYER
But it was not lost on the representatives from the media that Khalfan himself was a key contender thanks to spectacular performances in the AFC Asian Cup 2007 qualifiers and the AFC Champions League.
The amazing transformation his bashful and mild-mannered personality undergoes on a football pitch after pulling on the maroon of Qatar or the trademark white shirt of Al Sadd – the Q-League champions for whom the pre-university student successfully plies his trade – it has to be seen to be believed. In a national side packed with promising youngsters, Khalfan has been the standout player this year. This is what Al Mutawa, who eventually finished second, had to say about his much younger rival:
” He is one of the most exciting players I have seen. I will be the first person to congratulate him. There is much more to come from him.” Predictably, Khalfan flew back to Qatar the very same night to take part in the Doha Asian Games and he bore out Al Mutawa’s prophesy by scoring two goals in the hosts’ 3 – 0 win in the crucial quarter-final encounter against Thailand.
“After being crowned AFC Player of the Year, the expectations from me have suddenly increased. But I know my best years are in front of me,” said Khalfan, a Bora Milutinovic discovery two seasons back when Serb was in charge of Al Saad. AFC’s tweaking of eligibility rules for the award this year to honor and acknowledge players who have shown a strong commitment to playing in Asia and popularizing the game saw Khalfan clinch the bragging rights of being the best practitioner of the beautiful game in Asia.
Four Most Valuable Player (MVP) nominations – two each in the AFC Champions League 2006 and AFC Asian Cup 2007 qualifiers – decisively titled the balance in his favor with 80 points, while Al Mutawa fell short by 20 points and Al Shlhoub was five points further back. “I would like to thank my parents, especially my father for this wonderful achievement,” said Khalfan, the youngest player ever to win the prestigious award and also the first from the tiny Gulf country, which punches well above its weight when it comes to sport. “I hardly expected the nomination, let alone the award.” And he added: ” My form has been good of late and I think this is a major asset. Now I have to live up to my reputation.” And the team player that he is, Khalfan did not forget to dedicate the win to his Al Saad team-mates. “It is a triumph for my team-mates and my club. This would not have been possible without their support.”
Passion for the beautiful game runs deep in Ibrahim’s family. His father, Ibrahim Khalfan, was a talented yet mercurial footballer in the eighties and is the young Khalfan’s friend, guide and philosopher. “My father was the one who broke the news of my nomination for the AFC award to me. I was thrilled. But then he cautioned me that I was way too young and the others had a better chance,” said Khalfan.
“I am of course overjoyed and have really no words to express my delight,” said his father, who made a name for himself in midfield and figured in numerous campaigns for Qatar, including the Gulf Cup and the AFC Asian Cup in Singapore in 1984. “I am so proud of him.”
By the time Khalfan earned his first call-up to Dzemaludin Musovic’s national side for the AFC Asian Cup 2007 matchday 3 qualifier, he was already an established hitman for Al Saad, having tormented rival defenses in the Q-League to strike 16 goals in 47 appearances and had earned his junior team spurs in the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 with a memorable goal against the Netherlands.
Needless to say, all eyes were on the Al Saad talent when he made his senior team debut against Bangladesh in the AFC Asian Cup 2007 matchday 3 qualifier at the picturesque MA Aziz Stadium in Chittagong in August 2006. Two goals – adroitly taken – by Khalfan and an assist for the third goal saw Qatar defeating the hosts 4 – 1, despite being a man down.
“PUT IT BEHIND ME”
“It is easy to reach the summit but very difficult to stay there,” said Khalfan, who switched from Al Arabi to Al Saad at the age of 13. “Now I feel the pressure every time I go onto the pitch.”
It is at times like this that he needs his father’s sterling advice. “My father always reminds me that moments of glory are fleeting. I should put it behind me as soon as possible and move on,” said Khalfan, who is being already labeled the future of Qatari football, with a seriousness that belies his age.