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Interview: Sebastian Soria
Uruguayan talks to Al Jazeera about life in the Qatar team ahead of WC qualifier.
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2009 13:10 GMT

Soria guns for World Cup glory with Qatar against Australia last year [GALLO/GETTY]

It has been a long and painful road to football stardom for the determined youngster who had his shins kicked by thugs in the Uruguayan amateur leagues – before being discovered by a cyclist and flown thousands of miles to play his football in the Middle East.

In 2006 Sebastian Soria played his first international game for Qatar in Uzbekistan, and since then the goals have kept on flowing, making him one of the most feared and revered strikers in Asian football.

That remarkable story could come full circle if the powerful target man can find his scoring touch against Uzbekistan in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Tashkent on Saturday.

"It is a special game for me and it is a very important game for the team," Soria told Al Jazeera ahead of a week that could make or break his World Cup dreams.

"We have to try and win this game.

"If, God willing, I can score some goals too, it would be great."

Too many goals 

In his remarkable three years in the Qatar national team, Soria has scored so many goals that the statisticians seem to have lost count.

"They said, 'sorry, we have many other good players, we don't have a chance for you'.

"I said, 'ok, no problem, I just need the bus fee to go back home'"

Sebastian Soria, Qatar national striker

"A lot of goals," is the general consensus among those in the national federation who follow the man lovingly called "Sebastian" by his local fans.
 
But this unlikely love affair almost never came about.
 
Soria's early progress through the youth ranks in Uruguay was fraught by difficulties and rough tackles, producing the strong physique that has made him a defender’s nightmare.

"As a youngster I went to Defensor Club, and trained two weeks there," he says.

"They told me, 'sorry, we have many other good players, we don't have a chance for you'.

"I said, 'ok, no problem, I just need the bus fee to go back home'.

"I was not upset or sad. I continued to play in the amateur leagues.

"There it is different: they don't care if they get a red card, they kick you like anything, so it is hard to survive.

"You have to take care and learn quickly."

Soria did just that.

He kept knocking in the goals in the minor leagues and a new, unlikely chance soon emerged, rewarding the youngster's persistence.

Not that Liverpool 

"In 2001 they told me there is a chance to go to Liverpool Montevideo of Uruguay," Soria says.

Soria, top left, with his Qatar teammates on the World Cup trail [GALLO/GETTY]
"One guy who was a cyclist saw me and he knew an agent, so I went to Montivideo and trained under Julio Rivas.

"They sent me to the reserve team and after a while they called me back.

"In 2003 I played all the season in the first team and in mid 2004 I got the offer from Qatar."
 
At a time when opportunities to leave Uruguay for the European leagues were scarce, Soria jumped at the chance despite a little geographical uncertainty.
 
"When they told me I have a chance to play in Qatar I said, 'Qatar, where is that?'

"They said it was in the Gulf. I said ok. I went to look at a map because I only knew that (ex-Argentina striker) Gabriel Batistuta played here before.

"So I came in 2004 and started playing for the national team in 2006, when we lost 2-0 in Uzbekistan."

Asian Games crown

Now Soria and his teammates have the chance to make up for that loss, as well as a 1-0 reverse against the same opponents at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, which the hosts eventually won.

The football-crazy Qataris are targeting further success.

Soria is one of a number of foreign-born players in the Qatari national team, which is hoping to qualify for a first ever World Cup finals in 2010.

Some critical voices about the naturalisation of foreign players have been heard with Qatar's form dipping in recent losses to Australia and Japan.

But Soria says his experiences in Qatar have been positive throughout.

"When I go grocery shopping the Qatari fans stop me and say, 'you are the one who deserves to be Qatari. You are the only one who plays with your heart, we like how you play'," says Soria.

"I don't feel shy about such comments because it is nice to hear people say these things."
 
Indeed Soria has come to epitomise successful football integration in a country where the majority of the population is made up of a diverse immigrant workforce.

Join the club 

When AC Milan came to visit Doha in March, the Qatar Sports Club striker was promptly added to the Al Sadd squad for a single game, a practice unheard of elsewhere.

"You are the one who deserves to be Qatari. You are the only one who plays with your heart, we like how you play"

Soria on what the Qatari fans tell him

"They invited me to play for Al Sadd, so of course I said yes. I like to play against the strong defenders," Soria said after his tussles with Milan defender Philippe Senderos. 

After being substituted, Soria was swamped by local fans and patiently signed autographs for a good 15 minutes.  

These could well be the last few months of Soria's permanent stay in Doha.

The 25-year-old has set his sights on a move to Europe, and could become a hot insider buy on the deflated summer transfer market.

He has recently turned down an offer from Italian side Udinese, telling Al Jazeera that he may prefer a switch to the Spanish La Liga.
 
For the moment, though, Soria is fully concentrated on helping Qatar reach the World Cup finals in the upcoming games against Uzbekistan and neighbours Bahrain four days later.

A third place play-off is up for grabs with Australia and Japan steaming ahead in the group.

'Complicated'

"The situation is more complicated now," says Soria.

"We only have one game in Qatar against Australia, and three tough away games, but we still have a chance.

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"But things have to change.

"Against Australia and Japan (a 3-0 defeat) we didn't show anything. We have more quality than that."

In the last warm-up game against Syria, Soria showed his quality again with a brace in a 2-1 win.

If he can continue that form, this remarkable story could well continue all the way to South Africa.

"I'm always positive, and as long as we have a chance we will continue to go for it to try and reach the World Cup," Soria said, his trademark fighting spirit very much intact.

It may have taken him a while to reach the world stage, but Soria is now determined to make his mark on the world stage.

Even if that means cycling to South Africa, it seems. 

Source:
Al Jazeera
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