Doha, Qatar: Qatar take on Paraguay in their opening march of the Copa America at the historic Maracana Stadium with plenty of optimism but their coach Felix Sanchez would have made sure that his players are not under any pressure or weight of expectation.
Under Sanchez, Al Annabi stormed to the Asian Cup title in February against all odds and the Spaniard would be hoping that his fighting unit would give a similar account of themselves in Brazil too.
Qatar lost to Brazil in the friendly 0-2 last week, but Sanchez, whose spirited side were on a seven-match winning run going into that encounter, said he was only happy with their performance against the five-time world champions.
The Copa America is a great opportunity for Sanchez and his young wards to test their mettle against some of the best sides in the world and put themselves in a better position when they face tough opposition at home in the 2022 World Cup.
So this is a test ride for Qatar but it is one that guarantees plenty of returns.
A creditable performance in Brazil will give Qatar the confidence to get ready for the World Cup.
The biggest strength for Qatar is that the majority of the players have been playing together under Sanchez from their Aspire days and have a great understanding of each other’s games.
Besides, they all are ready to give their all in every match which they showed in the UAE during their Asian Cup campaign. That was the reason why they silenced teams such as South Korea, who had Tottenham star Heung-min Son in their ranks, as well as Japan.
Their opponents in Brazil are definitely stronger, but Qatar know how to deal with big teams.
They would believe that they have a realistic chance of squeezing a positive result out of the Paraguay match.
Akram Afif and Almoez Ali, who both were exceptional in the Asian Cup are capable of troubling Paraguay defence while Qatar’s backline will remind themselves how they tackled the likes of Japan and Korea.
With Bassam Al Rawi back from injury, Sanchez in all probability will go for a three-pronged defence also comprising Boualem Khoukhi and Tarek Salman, with AFC player of the year Abdulkarim Hassan and Pedro Miguel operating in the wings.
Assim Madibo will give them necessary cover from the midfield where he will be joined by Hassan Al Haydous and Abdulaziz Hatem and try to bring Afif and Almoez into play.
Sanchez will be cautious to begin with, for he needs to ensure that they won’t be outplayed in the midfield. But the Asian champions should go for a victory against Paraguay who are going through a rough patch.
Paraguay have won just one of their last eight matches, losing five of them, which will give Sanchez plenty of reason for optimism.
Paraguay coach Eduardo Berizzo has a few talented players such as Miguel Almiron and Oscar Cardozo at his disposal, but Qatar have stopped worrying about their opponents long back.