ASPIRE had won plaudits two years ago when Qatar, fully comprising its trainees, triumphed at the Asian Under-19 Championship in Myanmar. And the fine show by the academy’s side at the Sixth Al Kass Under-17 International Cup should further enhance its reputation and, more significantly, make the game’s stakeholders in the country glad that it continues to churn out future stars, especially with the 2022 World Cup drawing closer.
The Al Kass Cup organisers decided not to field Aspire International team this time, yet the academy boys did not feel any pressure of being the only home side as they progressed all the way to the final with an all-win record before going down to Real Madrid 0-2.
They started as the underdogs amid some of the big European and African teams, and their fine run was impressive.
Aspire players looked inferior in size compared to their rivals, be it in the quarterfinal against Esperance or semifinal against Red Bull Salzburg, but they never panicked and played with a distinctive style that best suited their physique.
“What the boys have achieved is the result of a long process at Aspire. The men at the academy work a lot. The decision makers in Qatar also deserve credit because they opted this system of coaching,” said coach Bruno Nogueira, who joined Aspire 16 months ago.
“Our idea is to play good football all the time. We always want to keep the ball on the grass and switch play. We look to avoid physical contact with stronger players,” he said.
More impressive was his players’ composure. Aspire fell behind in the 20th minute against Salzburg, who enjoyed a definite height advantage, but struck twice in the second half to walk away with a 2-1 win.
Asked about helping the boys keep their cool, Nogueira said, “I always think how I can help the players in difficult moments. It isn’t always easy to keep the perfect body language because we need to scream sometimes to get our messages across. The players mostly know how we should be playing. At Aspire, we insist to play our style of football until the end of the game unmindful of the scoreline. The idea is never hit long, hopeful passes, but possess it and keep it on the grass. It’s non-negotiable,” said Nogueira.
Khaled Saleh, who had a memorable tournament as No.10, said, “We weren’t expecting to reach thus far. Our plan was to take it game by game. We faced some of the strongest teams from around the world and we’re delighted with the job we did,” said Khaled.
Qatar U-23 team coach Felix Sanchez, who formerly trained Barcelona’s age-group teams and helped Qatar win the Asian U-19 title, said, “I think they competed very well. Right from the first game, they showed a strong personality. They aren’t afraid of any team and they showed good organisation together with aggressiveness. They created a lot of chances which was also important.”