Doha, Qatar: They don’t have a glittering record in AFC Asian Cup like Iran or South Korea, they don’t have any tall claims, and neither do they have any superstar players like Son Heung-Min or Maya Yoshida.
But make no mistake, Qatar’s young team are in the UAE to create an impression and don’t be surprised even if they make history.
Qatar, coached by the modest and straight-talking Felix Sanchez, open their campaign against Lebanon on Wednesday and they would be keen to get off to a flying start which is very important in settling the nerves before their bigger battles against North Korea, and particularly, Saudi Arabia.
Sanchez, who guided Qatar Under-19 team to the Asian title in 2014, have come up through the ranks and while doing so he has taken with him a number of his boys.
And therein lies Qatar’s biggest strength. Some of the core members of that young team have been playing together, for the same coach for so long, that they have a fantastic understanding.
Akram Afif and Almoez Ali, who tore up defences in the 2018 Asian U-23 Championship in China as well — the latter finishing as the top-scorer — will lead the attack for Qatar in the UAE too. Bassam Hisham, another Asian U-19 champion in Myanmar 2014, also has a key role to play and so has Assim Madibo and Tarek Salman, to name a couple.
Since taking his job as Qatar coach in 2017 when he replaced Jorge Fossati, Sanchez has made it a point to promote young talents and slowly but surely he has got his rewards.
Al Annabi played 12 matches in 2018 and have won seven of them while drawing two. Even the fact that they suffered two of their three defeats, against Algeria and Iran, during last month would not discourage them because they were deliberately testing their wits against strong opponents.
While Qatar, with an average age of 26, has one of the youngest squads in the tournaments, they have plenty of experienced names as well with players like captain Hassan Al Haydous, Karim Boudiaf, Hamed Ismael, Pedro Miguel and Boualem Khoukhi having to play crucial roles. Leftback Abdelkarim Hassan, though only 25, has loads of experience behind him and now has the title of AFC Player of the Year which will surely prove another source inspiration for him to give his best.
While Al Haydous can play on the flanks, particularly on the right, Boudiaf is the main creative outlet. Khoukhi and Pedro are supremely versatile and can be deployed in defence or in the midfield, if the situation demands so.
Left-back Abdelkarim Hassan, though only 25, has loads of experience behind him and now has the title of AFC Player of the Year which will surely prove another source inspiration for him to give his best.
Saad Al Sheeb, another experienced player, is almost certain to be the goalkeeper ahead of young Youssef Hassan, whose time will definitely come.
Al Sheeb has said before leaving for UAE that Qatar’s first priority would be to book their berth in the knockout round and they would be taking it match by match.
And as he said, a good result in the opening match will take Qatar a long way in their first aim of qualifying for the second round. With four best third-placed teams also sure to book their berth in the knockouts, Qatar would be looking for a solid victory against Lebanon that will take a lot of pressure off them.