WINSTON-SALEM — Kneeling on the pitch, Ahmad Al-Qaq bent down and gave the grass of Spry Soccer Stadium a kiss.
As a practicing Muslim, it was a spiritual moment for Al-Qaq — something he does after every goal he scores. On Sunday, this goal was “no doubt” the biggest one of his North Carolina career.
In UNC men’s soccer’s 1-0 victory over No. 2 seed Wake Forest in the ACC quarterfinals, his goal was the decider, sending the Tar Heels to the ACC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2018.
The game represented the transformation Al-Qaq has had over his long career at UNC.
“You’re talking about a big jump,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “This is never how it works.”
Al-Qaq has been the rock off the bench this year, coming in to affect the game with his fresh legs. On Sunday, he entered the game earlier than he normally does — just seven minutes into the contest.
He subbed in for graduate forward Martin Vician because Somoano said the team wasn’t playing to the game plan, which was “to go out there and get into [Wake Forest], impress them and harass them.”
“I mean, we went over it, this is how we’re supposed to play,” Somoano said. “And then when you step on and the whistle kicks in, we’re like, ‘what the heck are we doing?'”
Al-Qaq would make his presence felt just under nine minutes later. Capitalizing off a turnover in the 16th minute, he faked the defender to the right, dribbled the ball to his left and rocketed in a goal from outside the box.