In our ultimate build-up to AFC Asian Cup 2019, FOX Sports Asia provides the lowdown on all 24 teams and we take a closer look at Qatar in this preview.
It is pretty much evident that Qatar are a work in progress under Spanish coach Felix Sanchez these days. Their objective is, without any doubt, to nurture a group of footballers who will make the nation proud when they host the grand spectacle that promised to be the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
But three years before the greatest show on earth comes a test event for the Qataris. The AFC Asian Cup 2019 comes at a time when the Maroons are rebuilding after an underwhelming spell under Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati.
The Uruguayan’s replacement Felix is someone who has been promoted from Qatar’s youth setup and takes with a him a young squad to the Emirates.
Rising stars like Akram Afif and Tarek Salman will link up with experienced campaigners like 2018 Asian Footballer of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan and Hassan Al-Haydos as they look to gauge the progress of Felix’s rebuilding job.
Coach: Felix Sanchez
Captain: Hassan Al-Haydos
Best performance at Asian Cup: Quarterfinals (2000 and 2011)
Last time out in 2015: Group stage (Finished fourth in Group C losing all three matches)
January 9: Qatar v Lebanon (Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 8pm local time)
January 13: DPR Korea v Qatar (Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium, Al Ain – 3pm local time)
January 17: Saudi Arabia v Qatar (Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 8pm local time)
THE KEY PLAYER – HASSAN AL-HAYDOS
Al-Haydos is the most experienced star in Qatar’s 23-man squad and he will also have the most weight on his shoulders being the captain as well as the source of goals.
He has 109 caps for the Maroons so far scoring 24 goals and guiding the nation to their third Arabian Gulf Cup title in 2014.
Al-Haydos has been with Qatar Stars League giants Al Sadd since 2007 and has tasted success in the AFC Champions League in 2011.
Now, his nation will want the 28-year-old, more than ever, to help them triumph at the continental stage.
THE YOUNG STAR – AKRAM AFIF
Stage fright will be the one thing Akram Afif will not have when he wears the Qatari colours at the Asian Cup this January. Because the 22-year-old has already brushed shoulders against some of the world’s elites during his spells in Europe.
The left-winger became the first Qatari to join a La Liga club when he signed on the dotted lines for Villarreal in 2016. The Yellow Submarine loaned him out to Gijon that season where he made nine appearances in the Spanish top division.
Akram spent the 2017-18 season at Belgian side Eupen before returning to Al Sadd on loan this year where he has scored 14 goals from 17 matches.
The Aspire Academy product has also been prolific for the national team scoring 11 goals so far in 34 appearances including the late winner against Switzerland on November 14.
Qatar are pitted in Group E of the Asian Cup 2019 along with North Korea, Lebanon and three-time champions Saudi Arabia.
No matches will come easy for the Maroons in the group where the competition for the top two spots will be fierce.
However, on paper, Qatar should be able to get favourable results against North Korea and Lebanon in their first two matches to set up a potential group decider against Saudi Arabia at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium on January 17.
Considering the current political environment in the Gulf, it should make up for a mouthwatering and politically-charged football encounter!