Qatar entered the 2019 AFC Asian Cup as a wildcard, rather than as contenders. However, one month down the line, the Maroons are on the brink of history, as they find themselves in the final. And as they get ready for Thursday’s premier match against Japan, we take things a step further and see how they look ahead of their 2022 adventure.
FIFA stirred up quite the controversy when they announced that Qatar would be hosting their premier international competition in 2022. The West Asian Nation had beaten the likes of Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States of America to secure the rights of the competition, drawing much criticism.
Over the course of time, the voices against Qatar only grew louder. More controversies came to the fore, ranging from corruption to mistreatment of labour to the changing of schedule.
In the midst of all this, the Qatar National Team trained and prepared themselves for the future, for a time when the world would be at their doorstep.
Qatar had never been a standout side in Asia. The Maroons were always on the peripheries of greatness in the AFC Asian Cup while winning an occasional sub-confederation cup.
However, in 2017, things were about to change for good.
The Football Association of Qatar decided to appoint former U-20 manager Felix Sanchez Bas as the head coach. The Spaniard took charge immediately of the National Team, as well as, the U-23 side. And under Sanchez, the Maroons showed quick signs of progress, by finishing third in the AFC U-23 Championships.
Over the course of the last two years, the former Barcelona youth manager built an attacking and entertaining side, filled with young talents such as Almoez Ali and Bassam Al-Rawi.
In fact, Qatar registered one of the youngest squad in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, with eleven of their squad members either 22 years of age or less.
On the Right Track
There have been some obvious signs of progress for the West Asian side over the course of the last two years. However, the biggest indication of their dormant talent came to the fore back in November 2018, when they got the better of FIFA Top 20 regulars, Switzerland!
Qatar beat them by a narrow 1-0 margin, courtesy of an Akram Afif goal. Five days later, they registered another great result, drawing 2-2 against Iceland.
Two brilliant finishes against tough European opponents were enough to garner some much-needed audience for the Maroons, who suddenly found themselves on the radar of the world.
Asian Cup Adventure
Highlights – Qatar vs United Arab Emirates
Coming into the AFC Asian Cup, Qatar were looked at more as ‘wildcards’ than ‘contenders’. The Maroons were drawn in a relatively easy group, alongside DPR Korea, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. And they started their tournament in style, beating Lebanon 2-0 while playing attractive, crowd-pleasing football.
However, Qatar’s biggest sign of intent came in their following group matches. First, they hit DPR Korea for six, before beating one of the tournament favourites, Saudi Arabia.
The Maroons continued their fine run in the knockout stages of the competition, beating Iraq narrowly in the Round-of-16. However, their biggest win came in the Quarterfinals, when they thwarted Premier League star Son Heung-min and Korea Republic. A 4-0 thrashing of UAE in the Semifinals followed, setting up a final clash with Japan.
During this time, Felix Sanchez Bas’s men scored a whopping Sixteen goals, while conceding none!
Qatar’s amazing AFC Asian Cup run has firmly put them in front of the eyes of the footballing world. Fans are beginning to see that there is much more to the 2022 World Cup hosts than just impressive stadiums.
The only question is, will this young and adventurous side continue to improve over the next international cycle? Or will their AFC Asian Cup run become the sole surviving memory of a team that could’ve been?