A date with history for hosts and debutants Qatar
Asian champions, FIFA World Cup™ debutants, host nation, unknown quantity, or the single most prepared side in the tournament? It is safe to say there are many battling, and at times contrasting, narratives surround Qatar national team going into what will in all cases be a historic tournament for them.
Not since Italy in 1934 has any nation hosted the FIFA World Cup having never qualified to the competition, and Qatar will want to avoid the fate of South Africa, who remain the only host country to be eliminated in the group stage. But with only Saudi Arabia and Ghana ranked below them in the most recent FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking among the 32 teams, the odds are stacked against them.
An unfancied side even at continental level, Qatar had never progressed past the quarter-finals in the AFC Asian Cup until 2019. But Felix Sanchez’s men proved to be a different breed to their predecessors, taking the tournament by storm and cruising to their maiden title with a string of performances that saw them concede only one goal as they bagged 16 and defeated four former champions in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Korea Republic and Japan to lift a fully deserved title.
The Maroon filled the last couple of years by competing in the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021, the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2021, and the CONMEBOL Copa America Brazil 2019, reaching the semi-finals of the latter two. The Maroon did not participate in the Asian Qualifiers as hosts.
There will be enormous pressure on a generation of players whose entire career has been focused on getting ready for Qatar 2022, but anything is conceivable with this winter's unrivaled stability and large crowds supporting them.
Clevpicks.com will introduce you the Qatar national football team...
Qatar’s Group A Fixtures
Qatar vs Ecuador (19:00 local time, Al Bayt Stadium)
Qatar vs Senegal (16:00 local time, Al Thumama Stadium)
Netherlands v Qatar (18:00 local time, Al Bayt Stadium)
Sanchez’s approach and tactics
In 2006, Sanchez was hired from Barcelona's renowned La Masia Academy to work at the newly established Aspire Academy in Qatar. Sanchez was seen as the man to cultivate and guide a generation of young people from the academy to serve as the foundation of the team that will make history for the Arab nation.
He created a tight-knit family environment while adding experience or youthful spurts when necessary to put together the Qatar team of 2022. He constructed a team in his image gradually but steadily, making sure that his maiden managerial venture is a memorable one.
A five-man defense serves as the backbone of Sanchez's team, ensuring that his goalkeeper is well-protected. Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, who commonly play together as a front two or with Ali taking the lead and Afif lining up wide on the left, are still essential to the Spaniard's offensive plan despite his frequent experimenting with various midfield and attack combinations.
Even when facing opponents who are theoretically inferior, Qatar is frequently happy to give up control. They averaged 49% possession during their championship-winning AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign, placing them outside the top 10 teams in that metric. In the Gold Cup 2021, when they finished tenth out of all teams and advanced to the semi-final, the percentage was 45%. Their 39% possession in the 3-1 victory over Japan in the championship game and their 49% possession in the 4-0 thrashing of the UAE hosts best capture their clinical nature without the ball.
Key Player: Almoez Ali
As Qatar plays Ecuador, Senegal, and the Netherlands in Group A, chances are likely to be few and far between, which will highlight Ali's extraordinary goal-scoring ability even more.
With 39 strikes, the 26-year-old is just three behind Mansour Muftah for third place all-time in his nation's scoring list. With nine goals in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 and four at the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2021, Ali joined Mexico's Luis Hernandez in 2021 as the only players in history to finish with the most goals in two different continental tournaments.
Having previously had stints in Austria and Spain, Ali now plies his trade at home with Al Duhail, where he enjoys mentoring from one of the game’s all-time great forwards in Hernan Crespo, his club's head coach.
One to Watch: Homam Al-Amin
“Never change a winning team”, goes the established wisdom in football. So, for coach Sanchez to make a permanent change to his continental champions to integrate a player just barely out of his teenage years into the starting XI must speak volumes about the talent in question.
Al-Amin’s rise to stardom has been as rapid as his raids up the left flank. The full-back, an Aspire Academy graduate who trained at Belgian side Eupen before returning home to star for Al Gharafa, broke into the side, forcing his manager to move 2018 AFC Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan from the wingback position he had previously made his own to become a left-sided centre-back.
Having racked up over 20 caps already, Al-Amin will be hungry to prove his manager right with his energetic displays down the left, although a lack of experience could prove his biggest challenge come November.
Japan’s World Cup record
After establishing the J. League, a professional league, in 1990, Japan made their long-awaited World Cup debut in France '98. Since then, they have consistently been present, and Qatar will mark their eighth finals participation.
When they made their debut and lost all three games, the gap in class was obvious, but four years later, when they co-hosted the tournament with Korea Republic, things were very different. They made it to the knockout round for the first time under the leadership of Philippe Troussier and with a passionate home crowd behind them.
Since since, they have alternated between exiting in the Round of 16 and the Group Stage. In 2010, they advanced to the round of 16 for the first time away from home, only to lose heartbreakingly in a shootout. In 2006, they failed to win a single game and placed last in their group. Just as they had done eight years earlier, they only managed to score one point four years later.
They again narrowly missed the quarterfinals at the most recent tournament in Russia after blowing a two-goal advantage against Belgium in the round of 16.
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