Before Afrden Asqer was announced to have joined Swedish side Mjällby AIF, he talked to Soccer Newspaper on 19th March about how he felt about the U20 Asian Cup and his teammates.
Q: First of all, thanks to the U20 national team for the great games they gave to the fans, how do you feel about these four games in the U20 Asian Cup?
Afrden Asqer: We played fewer international matches (than we should) before. So after going out this time, we found that almost all the teams in Asia are improving. Through the tournament, we saw the gap between ourselves and them, but if we fight to catch up, I think we can catch up with them.
Q: As the captain of the U20 National Team, what kind of mission and responsibility do you feel you have?
A: The decision to make me the captain was made by the coaching team collectively after having consulted the team manager with thorough consideration. And my feeling is that I have a sense of responsibility as the captain and I have more strength to fight.
Q: Head coach Antonio Puche has brought a lot of new ideas to the team, what is your impression of the Spanish coach?
A: Antonio is not like other coaches, he is a person who likes to fight with himself. He will think of himself as Chinese and has a sense of honor in him. Even in friendly matches, he asked for the national anthem to be played, to have a sense of ceremony. He always instilled in us a spirit of patriotism and defiance.
He was also a striker when he used to play football, and he has developed the habit of going for every opportunity since he was a child. In his eyes, every goal is food for him. He told us that this U20 Asian Cup is our food, let’s bite this food down.
Q: There was a photo of the team manager Shao Jiayi hugging you during the U20 Asian Cup. Shao’s expression was cool and serious, and his gaze revealed trust, with the cherishing and love of seniors to juniors, and the trust between comrades. What did he say to you at that time?
A: This is a photo of our match against Kyrgyzstan, when we scored first. The team manager hugged me and said, “You must hold on, and lead everyone to hold on, don’t be anxious. He also said to me to cheer up and told me to shout more and echo more with everyone on the field, and told me to tell everyone to hold on and hold on, and we would be out of the group.
Q: Shao Jiayi, the team manager, used to play in the Bundesliga, and was also featured frequently for the national team in the past, and also played in the World Cup. What is your impression of him?
A: Usually he would scold me twice (jokingly) whether he sees me in the elevator or somewhere else (laughs), but actually we have a very good relationship, he is very nice to all of us. He has been with the team for the longest time, and he has a lot of feelings for the U20 national youth team, and he had tears in his eyes after the game against Korea. Shao usually shares his stories about playing in the Bundesliga with us, he is very considerate of us and does not want to let the players suffer. He would sometimes join in the training.
Q: The U20 national team also has another coach, Du Zhenyu, who used to play in the same position as you, what kind of interaction do you have?
A: Coach Du is responsible for the team’s offense and set piece training. We talked a lot because I took a lot of set pieces. He taught me a lot and I benefited a lot from it.
The U20 World Cup
Q: The U20 national team has played against Japan and South Korea, the two teams that advanced to the U20 World Cup, what characteristics did the national youth team show compared to them?
Asqer: Being in the top 8 in Asia shows that we have some strength. No team in Asia will have an easy game with us, and we will score first in every game. The head coach also said that if we play again, no matter which group we are in, we will still be in the top 8 and have a chance to enter the top 4.
Q: In the game with South Korea, we had a number of players with cramps. What are our gaps and shortcomings compared to them?
A: I think the main gap is in basic skills, our players need to build a more solid foundation when they are young. The Korean team is very strong and we were always passive and physically exhausted. Moreover, the Korean team had one more day of rest than us, so it was really unfavorable for us to go into overtime at the end.
Q: Does the lack of matches, especially international matches, have an impact on the team’s improvement?
A: The lack of international games did have big impact on the team. I think we should go out and play more high-quality matches to improve ourselves.
Q: The tactics of the U20 national team are more based on defensive counter-attack, and the coach of the national youth team also said that the defensive counter-attack is in line with the actual situation of this national youth team, how do you feel as a player?
A: As players, we obey the tactics of the head coach without any questions. We only need to execute the tactics of the coach well, if we can’t execute the tactics of the head coach, there is no meaning. The head coach actually knows Chinese football very well, and his tactics are the most suitable tactics for us. The head coach once said that the team needs the most suitable players for the team.
Q: What insights have you gained through this U20 Asian Cup?
A: I think young players need to solidify their basic skills. They need to play more matches and exchange with high level foreign teams at the youth level. Playing is only way to improve their level.
Q: What are the most memorable details and images from this year’s tournament?
A: My most memorable moment was when we scored a goal against South Korea, when we had some initiative and the scene was very memorable.
Q: You assisted on a corner kick against Japan, you assisted on a goal against Saudi Arabia, and you also scored the second goal, and your cross against Kyrgyzstan caused an oops.
Asqer: In these years, I have several assists every year in the Chinese Super League. I usually think about and train my passing a lot, and assists are also an important tool to help the team win.
Q: Which assist was more memorable for you?
A: The assist for our first goal against Saudi Arabia. It was 0-0 for a long time and we needed a goal to break the deadlock, so I made a threatening pass to my teammate Mutellip (Iminqari) and he took the chance.
Q: What about the own goal by Kyrgyzstan, which you made?
A: Actually, I didn’t pass the ball well, but I didn’t expect luck to do a favour for me. But of course, it’s good if the ball goes in.
Q: Which goal for the U20 team impressed you the most?
A: The second goal against Saudi Arabia. For that goal, the team’s performance in defense and counterattacking can be scored full marks. And that goal sealed the victory.
Past, and Future
Q: There are several good Xinjiang players in this U20 national team, you, Behram, and Mutellip all showed a good level of play. What do you think Xinjiang players will do to improve and help Chinese football?
A: The country’s strong development of football has improved conditions in all regions. More children will be exposed to football and more children will enjoy it. Footballers from Xinjiang are good in terms of running ability, physical condition, imagination and creativity. In fact, in Xinjiang, many players play on the streets and good players come from the street.
Q: Next you will join the Olympics team training with a few of your teammates from the national youth team, what are your expectations for the national team?
Asqer: Before coming to the U20 national youth team, I trained with the national Olympic team led by Coach Cheng (Yaodong) for about three or four years. I am very thankful to Coach Cheng for recognizing me and I am familiar with the team. I hope to advance to the Paris Olympics with the Team next.
Q: Do you have any future plans to go abroad?
A: For the time being, I don’t think I have any plans to go abroad. I think I haven’t fully established myself in the domestic league yet, and when I can establish myself in the domestic league, I will consider going out to try. With my current ability, it’s hard for me to be a useful player for the team. Of course, it is my dream to stay abroad and I will definitely give it a try in the future.
Q: Many fans have compared your breakthroughs on the side with those of Mitoma (Kaoru). Do you have any role models or idols that you would like to learn from?
A: Although I am a bit similar to him in some technical aspects, there is no comparison between me and him now. He is one of the best side players in Asia. And I actually prefer the way Son (Heung-min) plays now.
Q: When you returned home in the early hours of March 16, fans greeted you at the airport with a banner saying “China wants to be strong”, how did you feel at that moment?
A: We thanked everyone for waiting late at the airport that night. I would like to say to everyone that I may not be the best player, but I hope to be a useful player for the team.