Benali living the dream in Qatar and France
Youssef Benali, a central part of the national team, is one of the few Qatari players to ply his trade abroad.
Standing tall at 1.93M, Qatar international Youssef Benali is an imposing figure on the handball court. A pivot, he goes about his defensive duties with ruthless efficiency. Off the court, he transforms into a soft-spoken dad of six-year-old Kosai and three-year-old Fatima.
The 32-year-old has scored only five goals so far – two against Hong Kong and three past India – in the Asian Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Doha. But this is primarily due to coach Valero Rivera’s strategy to conserve him for crunch ties, the first of which will be against Saudi Arabia on Monday.
Benali is one of the few Qatari players to have tasted success abroad. After his stint with Lekhwiya (2012-16) he moved to Esperance Sportive de Tunis for a year. He then joined French side US Ivry for a season before inking a two-year deal with C’ Chartres Metropole HB another French Club, where he currently plays.
Benali was happy with the way his career has panned out since becoming a member of the Qatar national team.
“This is my 10th international outing for Qatar, and I couldn’t be happier. Playing for the national team has helped me immensely in building my professional career. It’s been a total pleasure,” he told Inside Qatar.
Benali has always performed well in Qatar’s colours. Featuring in three IHF World Championships, he played a crucial role in helping Qatar win silver at home in 2015.
Four years later, at the Worlds in Denmark/Germany, he scored 46 goals to become the only pivot in the top-10 scorer’s list.
“Since pivots are usually defensive players, it was unusual for me to score so many goals. I couldn’t have done it without passes from the backs like Bertrand Roine, Rafael Capote, Frankis Marzo and Wajdi Sinen. While it put me on the radar of several foreign clubs, it also proved that Qatar was here to stay,” he said.
Despite signing a two-year contract with C’ Chartres, there was immense pressure on Benali to move to bigger clubs elsewhere. But the player, who helped Qatar win two Asian Games gold medals (2014 and ’18), chose to honour his commitment.
“After the 2019 Worlds, several offers were on the table, but I refused to quit midway. After this season, I’ll sit down with my management team and decide on m future course of action. For now, my focus is on the Asian Olympic qualifiers,” he said.
As a 15-year-old, Benali started as a volleyball player, but soon switched to handball due to his sheer passion for it. He now lives in France with his wife Amira and two children.
He said he was looking forward to playing at the Tokyo Olympics.
“The Qatar team has evolved and become stronger. We’re on course to qualify for Tokyo and we’ll give a better account of ourselves this time,” he said confidently.
Qatar’s only Olympic appearance was at the 2016 Games, where they finished eighth out of 12 teams.