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Mohammed Muntari: Trained by the 'African Pele', making history with Qatar

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The FIFA World Cup has been a difficult tournament for Qatar, on and off the field, but for striker Mohammed Muntari, it's been a remarkable, and historic, next step in a fascinating and unlikely career to date.

Born in Kumasi, Ghana, and trained at the academy of former Aston Villa attacker Nii Lamptey, Muntari has spent the entirety of his senior career in Qatar and became, on Friday, the first -- and to date, only -- player to score a World Cup goal for The Maroon as they were defeated 3-1 by Senegal.

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Lamptey, once hailed as the 'African Pele' while at Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven, knows the many pitfalls that can befall a young player, having had his own promising career derailed by poor decision-making, off-field controversies, and tragedies in his personal life.

He launched his own Glow-Lamp Soccer Academy after his playing career, to mitigate those pitfalls for coming generations of players, and while Muntari isn't the first graduate -- Lamptey has launched players who have featured in Sweden, Libya and Algeria -- he's certainly the most high-profile, and the only one to score at a World Cup.

Lamptey is unabashed about the motivation behind his 15-acre institution, with money-making at the heart of his venture.

"For me, the meaning of football is someone who you can make money out of, and if I think you can make it, if you have football in you, the talent in you, then that's the purpose why I'm here," Lamptey told ESPN.

"If I think you can make it, then I'll educate your parents: 'Listen, I'm not God, but this is what I see, let him continue his education.' If I see the potential is in you, and I know you can make it, then we'll be polishing you, 100 percent."

Muntari spent a year at the academy before moving to Qatari club El Jaish in his teens, and he has since represented Stars League sides Lekhwiya, Al Ahli and current employers Al Duhail, with whom he's won two titles alongside the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Kenya's Michael Olunga and Ferjani Sassi of Tunisia.

After becoming a naturalised Qatari citizen, Muntari made his debut for his new nation in Dec. 2014 -- netting in a friendly against Estonia -- joining fellow dual nationals such as Boualem Khoukhi (Algeria), Almoez Ali, Assim Madibo and Musaab Khidir (Sudan) and Pedro Miguel (Cape Verde Islands) in bolstering Qatar's ranks.

"We play football first because we love to play football," Muntari told Ghanaian TV3 earlier this year when questioned about his decision to represent Qatar. "Second because we want to take care of the people we want to take care of.

"It wasn't financially motivated. I could have been playing for Ghana and still be earning much."

Muntari, 28, impressed supporters with his technique, aerial threat and infectious joy at playing, and he has made an impact in both of Qatar's matches at the World Cup after being introduced from the bench.

He isn't a stranger to scoring goals in big games, having also struck for Qatar in the Arab Cup and the Gold Cup.

Against Senegal, he required just four minutes to pull a goal back, rising spectacularly to head Ismaeel Mohammad 's cross beyond Edouard Mendy to momentarily threaten a comeback.

"There are mixed emotions," Muntari told beIN Sports after the match. "When you score the country's first goal at a World Cup, it's a privilege to be part of this group, but we ended up losing.

"I don't want to lose. I know it's a big goal in terms of being the first goal for the country, but it's just a loss for me."

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Muntari's bond with his adopted nation appears to be strong, with the forward having spoken warmly about how Qataris stuck with him during an injury-hit 2021, despite acknowledging that it was his childhood dream to play for Ghana shirt at the World Cup.

His form could yet see him force his way into Felix Sanchez's starting XI on Tuesday, with the Spanish head coach desperate for his side to go out with a bang when they face the Netherlands in their final group game.

"We have a very tough game ahead of us," Sanchez said after Friday's 3-1 defeat by Senegal. "We intend to be competitive.

"We cannot miss a chance like this to play against the Netherlands, so our plan, the goal, is to play a good game. We'll be facing a team that hopes to go far in the World Cup.

"The key here is this country has a goal in mind. The World Cup will finish, but football will continue here. We want to keep developing talent, keep competing in Asia."

Qatar may have become the first World Cup hosts to lose their first two matches, and they may yet become the first to exit their own tournament without winning a match, but Muntari's header against Senegal has ensured they won't depart without scoring a goal.