Mutellip Iminqari played very well in the U20 Asian Cup. He scored 2 goals during in four games, including one against South Korea, which gave the team (short-lived) hope to qualify for the U20 World Cup. He was one of the biggest contributors to the U20 national youth team to reach the knockout stage. Recently, he sat downwith Soccer newspaper. In the interview, he tells Lu Mi that this U20 Asian Cup has improved his self-confidence a lot.
Soccer: It’s been a few days since the U20 Asian Cup ended, what comes to your mind the most in these days?
Iminqari: In the two days after the tournament, no matter what I did, the images of the goals conceded were in my mind, especially the goals conceded against South Korea. Maybe it’s still a bit of a shock for me. If we had won against South Korea, we would have been able to play in the Under 20 World Cup, which was the dream for all of us. These days, after I came back and calmed down, I realised it’s useless to keep thinking about it. So I should summarize my play in the game and think about what I can do better.
In the match with South Korea, all of us tried our best to fight until the end, but we were not able to get the result we wanted, how did the head coach summarise it with you after the match?
At that time, both the coaching team and the players felt very sorry. Because we were leading 1-0 at the beginning of the second half, we thought we could win the game by defending well. Or if we accidentally conceded a goal and it could be delayed to penalty kicks, we were sure to win. However, in the extra time, we lost too much fitness and concentration, which led to conceding one goal after another and finally lost the game.
The head coach mainly summarised the game and found out our shortcomings. However, he was satisfied with our performance this time, and we did what his tactical arrangement had been these days. Of course, it’s also a pity that he also wanted us to play in the U20 World Cup, to show our talent on the world stage and to play our national anthem.
You scored a great goal in that game, what was the thought that flashed through your mind the moment you scored? There was almost no angle when you were shooting.
I saw Hu Hetao in the box, and then I looked at the goalkeeper and saw that the goalkeeper had moved ahead and thought I was going to pass to Hu Hetao, and I also saw that there was a very small angle at the near corner, and then I just hit the goal. At that time, I thought that as long as I hit that position, the ball would definitely go in, which was related to the keeper’s early movement. I think this judgment is based on my accumulation from playing in the Chinese Super League last year. Because the pace of the Chinese Super League is much faster than that of the youth league, which has improved my judgment in many moments.
The team has been placed in the “Group of Death” since the beginning. What did you think about your prospects in the face of the lack of optimism about the team’s performance?
We know that many people don’t think much of us, and based on our performance in the qualifying rounds it was pretty impossible for us to get out of the group. But first of all, we knew very well what we wanted to do and our goal was clear: to get out of the group, reach the quarterfinals, and then reach the U20 World Cup. For this reason, we have given a lot, for example, we have three practice sessions every day. We started the day with fitness training on an empty stomach at seven in the morning. Strength training in the morning and field training in the afternoon, and every day is a lot of training sessions. We also prepared very well for the opponents in our group and understood what kind of playing style they had. The head coach was very strict in details and asked us to be united. From daily training to daily schedul, we were all unified. We prepared with such a belief, so that we could show our best bit on the field.
In the group stage and the knockout stage, we met strong teams one after another, seemingly with different strengths and we played very defensively on the field, but we never let our opponents beat you easily, what is the secret of doing this?
I think the most important point is the sense of honor for our country, because we represent not one person or one city on the pitch, but the whole country. First of all, we all attach great importance to this competition, and secondly, we are all very united and hardworking, and we all run one more step for our teammates, which I think is the most important. Then, the coaching team had a targeted plan for each opponent, and we executed it well.
What was the biggest feeling when you were in the overtime game against Korea, when your teammates went down with cramps one after another and didn’t give up at the last minute? Hu Hetao was crying.
I had the same feeling as him. When I was carried off, the coach asked me, “Can you still play? When he asked me that, I almost cried because I really wanted to play. It was my dream. I think it is the dream of every boy who plays football to play in the World Cup. I really wanted to play, but my body was at its limit. And it was so hard that I would cramp up immediately if I exerted myself a little bit. What was even harder was that I saw Afrden (Asqer) and the others playing for 120 minutes and at the end they were really out of energy, but he was still running. So I was really moved at that moment. I also wished I could keep fighting alongside them to the end.
I remember that when I came back from the tournament, my dad called me on the video and asked me if I was injured again. And I explained that it was just a cramp. At that time, he asked if the result would have been better if you had held on a little longer, would you have scored another goal, would the situation have been different? It was really hard for me. It was possible that my presence would have helped everyone a little more, but my body really didn’t allow it at that time.
After this tournament, what do you think is your biggest gain and what direction do you need to work towards in the future?
With this tournament experience, my self-confidence has improved a lot. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different techniques and tactics, and the way I play in the club and the national team is completely different. I have some new knowledge and understanding from the point of view of the system and technical and tactical play. I want to improve more in my future games and training, and I want to work hard towards the senior squad of the national team. Also, I want to play abroad. Last time I talked to you about my three dreams, to play for Chengdu, to fight for my country and to play in the top five leagues.
Soccer: In this Asian Cup, you only had one start, and you played in all three group games as a substitute for Hu He Tao, but you had a very good performance.
Iminqari: First of all, I have been on this team for a short time, and my understanding with my teammates is not good enough. Hu Hetao, Behram Abduweli, Afrden is the attacking combination since the qualifying games, and then through the friendly games in Dubai. They accumulated better chemistry. I was injured in Croatia for more than 20 days, and I didn’t recover to my best physical condition.
I’m still satisfied, but I think I still have a lot of room for improvement and I can do better. If I could have scored a few more goals against South Korea, I think it would have been perfect.
You can see that you, Hu Hetao or Afrden, although it is your first time to participate in this tournament, you are very confident on the field, what is the origin of such maturity?
It’s really related to the fact that we got a lot of playing time in the league last year, and it’s because we played a lot in the Chinese Super League that we gained some experience in the game. Especially after playing some high-level games. It helps to build confidence. So on the field, it brings a more mature feeling to everyone, which comes from confidence.
Seeing that you have brought so many surprises in your first appearance on the Asian stage, the club is always keeping an eye on you, what kind of support do they give to you?
Chengdu head coach Seo Jung-won or the big brothers in the team and the club staff. Before every game Hu Hetao and I received encouraging messages, they say we are the best and we can do it. Sometimes we would get nervous. And they would say just play normally and encouraged us all the time. I think the club helped us a lot because getting recognition and encouragement before the game must have helped to relieve the pressure. They were also happy for our performance this time and gave us high praise because their own club’s kids were able to go and show themselves on the Asian stage for their country and also scored goals. The reason why we were able to play with our own characteristics is also inseparable from the training we received from our club last year, as well as the guidance we received from our coach and teammates.
When you were interviewed last year, you said you had accomplished your three dreams, “to play for Chengdu”, but how do you feel you have accomplished your second goal, “to fight for the national team”?
The second dream has just started and is not finished yet, because I am playing in the U series of the national team, and I want to be a member of the senior squad and fight for the glory of my country. This year is my first appearance for the national team, and I am confident that I will be able to surprise our fans in the national first team in the future.
What is the attitude of the Chengdu club towards your future goal of playing in the top five leagues?
The club is very supportive of players going abroad and even playing in the top five leagues. I hope to improve myself technically this year and next year, and then prepare myself in terms of language. So that when the time is right, I will be ready to go abroad. The club has always been very supportive and I hope to produce some players who will play in the top five leagues.
Your national assignment continues, what do you hope to achieve at this stage?
Whether at the national level or at the club, I want to bring some positive influence to Chinese football in this period. I also hope to bring more happiness to the fans.
Soccer: You are the eldest son of your family, did your family watch the whole Asian Cup this time? When you scored your first goal in the Asian Cup, did you share your joy with them at first?
Iminqari: Because my brothers, they need to go to school and board at school, they might not have seen it, but my parents watched it at home. As soon as I got back to the hotel after the game, my dad gave me a video call and he was very happy and excite. And I could feel his joy, which was completely different from the joy I felt when I scored in the league. He said he was very proud that his son was able to score for his country on such a big stage and contribute to the country, and he felt it was a great honor for the whole family. I myself was in the same state. In fact, I didn’t even know how many celebrations I did after I scored, and when my teammates ran to pull me along to celebrate, I was in a state of running wild and crazy.
You just said that your father was the first to inquire about your injury after this game VS South Korea, is it true that you have been communicating with them about everything you do in football? What is their understanding of football?
My dad still knows a lot about football, but not in a very deep way. He also started to understand football because I play football. He hasn’t missed a game since I started playing in the league last year. I will communicate with them and help them understand more about my career.
From Kashgar to Chengdu and then to Asia, did you make your family feel happy that you had to leave your hometown since you were a kid?
Yes, because I walked from Kashgar to Chengdu, then to the first team in Chengdu, and now all the way to the the U20 Asian Cup, my family knows how hard it was for me. They know how much I’ve suffered, how many times I’ve been injured, how many bones I’ve broken. So to be able to come this far, to be able to score on the stage of the U20 Asian Cup, my family is proud of me, and I myself feel very relieved that all the efforts are worth it.
From your first goal in the league, you had a wonderful kneeling celebration, and later in the U20 Asian Cup, the celebration action you saw was a little different from the previous one, does this action have any meaning?
This celebration was my own idea, I was sliding and kneeling before, but this time I was sliding and kneeling and saluting, sometimes I got too excited and didn’t do the salute. When I was watching the World Cup in Russia, I saluted after seeing Dzyuba score a goal to show my respect and affection for my country. At that time, I thought that if I ever scored a goal for the national team, I would do the same celebration. Then I combined the kneeling and the salute into one, and that’s how I created the celebration for the national team’s goal.
There are a lot of good Xinjiang players playing in the U20 national youth team this time, and there are a lot of good Xinjiang players emerging in the league, does this also help the development of soccer back home?
There are many players in Xinjiang who play better than me and have more talent than me, but they just can’t come to a big club to receive more professional and systematic training. Some of them didn’t have enough to play, or their dream of playing football was cut short in their hometown.
I also hope that through our performance, we can draw the attention of more clubs and soccer people to bring more positive and helpful things to Xinjiang soccer. Let talented players, who can go to big clubs to receive professional and systematic training, to win glory for the country as soon as possible.
(U20 National Team manager) Antonio (Puche) said that you have created a good starting point for the next U20 national team because this time they reached the top 8 and they will be a first-grade team next time, do you feel relieved yourself about that?
I’m glad that at least we made a little contribution to the next team. It’s a pity that we didn’t achieve our dream of playing in the U20 World Cup, but it’s okay to pave the way for the next team. I hope they can work harder next time and create better results than we did.