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Aug 17, 2010

Soria targets more success

Asian football has produced plenty of prolific marksmen down the years, from former Bayern Munich marksman Ali Daei, or Iraq's fairytale 2007 Asian Cup winning goal-scorer Younis Mahmoud, to current promising Japanese star Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow. But perhaps none of them have taken such an unorthodox route to continental football fame as Qatar's Sebastian Soria.

After having his legs kicked by Uruguayan amateur league thugs and being sent back empty handed on a bus from his first trial (before finally being discovered by a cyclist who helped sign him up for Liverpool Club in Montivideo), Soria arrived on the shores of the Persian Gulf as a virtual unknown in world football some six years ago. He has since become a national hero in football crazy Qatar. Despite his foreign origins, Soria has even captained the Qatari national team, and has come to embody the cosmopolitan nature of a country bidding to host the Middle East's first World Cup in 2022.

Indeed on the 2008 Asian Football Player of the Year nominee's shoulders rest the hopes of a nation ahead of the 2011 Asian Cup set to kick off this January in Doha. But Qatar has already seen other home successes like the 2006 Asian Games gold medal in football.

That very competition was Soria's first for his new nation, as he fondly remembers: ''Normally we play well in front of our home crowd, we won our last Gulf Cup at home and I also had the luck to win the 2006 Asian Games here in Doha, so I hope home advantage will give us an additional edge for the Asian Cup in January. But obviously our work and attitude on the pitch are the biggest factors, and then the people here can add that little bit extra to hopefully push us all the way.''

Soria already has one Asian Cup under his belt, but despite a goal-per-game average in 2007, his team were knocked out in the group stage. Now he is intent not only on making it far in the 2011 competition, but is also looking to write his name into the list of legendary top scorers who have graced the Asian Cup over the years.

The powerful striker has set himself the lofty target of seven goals for his home competition: ''As a striker I always try to put goals for myself. In the last Asian Cup I scored three goals in three games. The top scorer was Younis Mahmoud, who scored five but played every game until the final. So the last Asian Cup was good for me personally in terms of goals. But of course I want to help the team in the first place, and then also try to score my goals. I would love to be the top scorer of this Asian Cup, and make a name outside of Asia too.''

The Qatar Sports Club star has already awoken interest from Europe, with Italian team Udinese as well as Spanish capital sides Getafe and Atletico Madrid scouting for his services in the past couple of years. But after much consideration, Soria chose to extend his contract with his Qatari club team. His main focus now is on the task at hand: playing his best football for Qatar in the 2011 Asian Cup.

''I think we've improved as a team since Bruno Metsu took over, but we still need a lot more attitude as a team - that spirit to always want to win,'' he said. ''There are other teams at the tournament like Japan, South Korea and Australia, who all played well in the World Cup, so it is very early to say if we can win the Asian Cup. But we will certainly fight and that way we will have a chance.

''In football everything is possible - just look at New Zealand at the World Cup. Everyone thought they would get thrashed and they ended up the only undefeated team of them all."

Soria believes Qatar can progress from a group also containing China, Kuwait and Uzbekistan, but names Japan as his top favourites for the Asian title next year: ''I think we can qualify from our group. All the teams have a similar level, a good level, but we can do it. On the whole I see two teams which are Australia and Japan, and especially Japan is one of my favorites because of their style of playing football.''

Soria says he has already seen a marked improvement in Asian football since he arrived in Qatar in 2004, and hailed the newly reformed AFC Champions League for helping to raise the bar of Asian football. But for the popular Qatari striker who watched with interest as his native Uruguay made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup this summer, there can surely be nothing greater than qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil - with Qatar.

''I think it's going to be difficult for us to qualify for Brazil,'' he added. ''Last year we had a big chance to qualify for South Africa, and then we changed coaches in the middle of the final round of matches and had to start anew. Now new players are coming up and maybe it will be my last chance to play a World Cup in 2014. I think it will be the best age for me, 30, and I'll fight for that chance.''

It is that fighting spirit for which the Qatari fans love Soria. And for a player who has taken such an unorthodox route to the top of the Asian game, there can be little doubt that this Qatari Uruguayan will fight to the very last minute to make his way onto the world stage.

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