Doha, 30 May 2021- The Qatar Football Association (QFA) has completed all the necessary arrangements to host the Group E matches in the joint Asian qualifiers for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup in China, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. All of the remaining games in the group will be played in Doha from 3-15 June 2021 at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd Sports Club, with the participation of five teams: Qatar, Oman, India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The internal committees and departments under the umbrella of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) continue to hold meetings to prepare for the start of the matches, discussing all organisational and logistical matters related to the arrival and accommodation of the teams, their training grounds and other aspects related to the matches. Despite the exceptional circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the QFA has been able to generate a great footballing atmosphere through its hosting of many events, the last of which was the Total CAF Super Cup 2020, which was played a few days ago. Likewise, amidst similar precautionary measures, Qatar hosted the last edition of the FIFA Club World Cup and also the AFC Champions League games for the West and East regions, all the way to its title decider, in addition to the 48th Amir Cup final.
As for the precautionary and preventive measures, the health protocol prepared by the Ministry of Public Health will be implemented with the aim of preserving the health and safety of all participants in the qualifiers, including teams, organisers and media alike. This follows the successful application of the protocol in previous events such as the AFC Champions League, the Amir Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup, which attracted praise from everyone involved. The LOC will provide medical services 24 hours a day, with an exclusive and round-the-clock clinic and ambulance services in all the team hotels, while the stadiums too will have complete medical coverage. There will also be mobile teams to serve other people on the pitch, including referees and technical staff, in addition to the provision of doping lab services.
The preventive health measures approved by the LOC include the application of the medical isolation system known as the “bio-bubble”, in which the movement of all participants, including players, officials and organisers, is restricted to places of residence, training grounds, and the venue that will host the qualifiers, the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Sadd Sports Club. As part of these strict measures, players and officials will undergo COVID-19 tests to check for infection. This is in addition to using safe transportation, and the continuous sterilisation of accommodation facilities and training sites.
All the precautionary measures followed by the LOC are being implemented in full coordination with the Ministry of Public Health to limit the spread of COVID-19. A quarantine will be applicable for all the participating teams (Qatar, Oman, India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh). The teams will be asked to prove they are not infected with COVID-19, before being tested upon arrival at Doha. Later, everyone will enter the bio-bubble.
The AFC has informed the officials of the participating teams of the various measures that must be taken in the bio-bubble system as soon as they reach Doha, where the players move from the airport directly to the hotel and from there to the training grounds that have been designated for them. They will switch to Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on the days of the matches. It is also categorically forbidden for any of the team members to mix with anyone from outside the delegation. Whoever violates the strict health requirements will be penalised by having to leave the bio-bubble.
All the remaining seven matches in Group E will be played at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd Sports Club, which recently hosted the Total CAF Super Cup 2020. It is one of the most famous stadiums in Asia, having successfully played host to many tournaments and finals, such as the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, 2016 AFC U-23 Championship, the Italian Super Cup, the 2020 AFC Champions League, qualifying matches of our national team and other important official and international friendly matches.
Arrangements for preparing the stadium for the joint Asian qualifiers have been completed, and the venue will be subject to supervision by the LOC and the AFC. The stadium has a capacity of 13,000 spectators, and it is one of the first to use the cooling technology system that was later applied in all stadiums hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
India was the first to reach Doha, on May 21, with the team intending to reach early in order to adapt to the precautionary atmosphere and to benefit from the readiness of the stadiums to train and prepare for their first game against our national team. Bangladesh was the next team to arrive, with their delegation landing in Doha on the 28th. The other teams are also scheduled to reach Qatar in the coming days, with Afghanistan and Oman set to arrive on the 30th and the 31st of this month respectively. The participating teams are scheduled to enter the bio-bubble system, starting tomorrow, the 30th of this month, according to their arrival dates, and in accordance with the established procedures that requires everyone to stay at their residence and not travel except to perform training and play matches while undergoing periodic COVID-19 tests.
Our national team and its Omani counterpart will be staying at the Torch Hotel, while the Ezdan Palace Hotel will host the teams of India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Training sessions will take place at Qatar University pitches 2-3, Aspire Academy pitches 2-3, and Al Markhiya club secondary pitches.
Our national team is currently working hard in their preparations for the qualifiers, and its first match against India. The team has been at their preparatory camp at the Aspire Academy, which started on May 16th, with the players fully committed to the training programme put in place by the coaching staff, who are looking to raise the team’s technical and physical fitness levels ahead of the two remaining games on the path towards successfully qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023. This is especially important, considering the upcoming period which will witness the national team’s participation in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and then the FIFA Arab Cup 2021, which Doha will host.
Head coach Felix Sanchez had chosen 27 players in the squad list of our national team for the matches against India and Oman. The list was then increased with the addition of Abdullah Marafie, Abdurashid Umaru, Hashim Ali, Muhammad Ayyash, and Yousef Hassan, taking the squad strength to 32 players. In addition to the previous five, the squad includes the following players: Saad Al-Sheeb, Meshaal Barsham, Pedro Miguel, Salem Al-Hajri, Tarek Salman, Abdelkarim Hassan, Boualem Khoukhi, Hassan Al-Haydos, Akram Afif, Yousuf Abdurisag, Ahmed Suhail, Musab Khidir, Muhammad Waad, Salah Zakaria, Bassam Al-Rawi, Asim Madibo, Almoez Ali, Karim Boudiaf, Muhammed Muntari, Ismaeel Mohammad, Abdullah Abdul Salam, Sultan Al-Braik, Ahmed Alaaeldin, Humam Al-Amin, Mahmoud Abunada, Abdulaziz Hatem, and Khaled Muneer.
Qatar registered a big 5-0 win over Bangladesh in their last Group E game on December 4, after the AFC’s decision to resume the joint Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the Asian Cup 2023 in China. It was the first official international match in Asia in 2020, since the start of the new COVID-19 pandemic, and it was the first official continental match in which fans were allowed to attend since the return of the competitions.
The qualifiers will resume on the third of June with two matches on every day of the schedule except on Friday, June 11, which will witness only one match. All games will be held at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium at Al Sadd Sports Club, and the matches will kick off at one of two fixed timings, 5 PM or 8 PM. The full match schedule is as follows:
Thursday, June 3
Afghanistan x Bangladesh 17:00
Qatar x India 20:00
Monday, 7 June
India x Bangladesh 17:00
Qatar x Oman 20:00
Friday, June 11
Oman x Afghanistan 20:00
Tuesday, 15 June
Afghanistan x India 17:00
Oman x Bangladesh 20:00
The remaining Group E fixtures are to be played in four rounds, with seven matches across the 3rd, 7th, 11th and 15th of June. Our national team is currently on top of the Group E rankings with 16 points from six games, compared to 12 points from five matches for Oman, 4 for Afghanistan, 3 for India and one point for Bangladesh. Qatar have already qualified for the 2022 World Cup finals as the host country, but participate in these qualifiers in order to reach the 2023 AFC Asian Cup in China, looking to defend the title they won in UAE in 2019. In the event that Qatar wins the group, the number of Asian Cup qualifying spots allocated to the top runners-up teams will increase from four to five.
Qatar started their journey with a 6-0 win over Afghanistan, before drawing 0-0 with India in the second round. After that, they returned to winning ways and registered four consecutive victories, defeating Bangladesh 2-0, Oman 2-1, Afghanistan 1-0 and Bangladesh 5-0. The team’s last two matches are against India on June 3, and then Oman on the 7th of the same month.
As for Oman, they continue to hold on to hope, especially as they’ve played a match less than Qatar, and will play Qatar, Afghanistan and Bangladesh in their remaining fixtures on June 7, 11 and 15. The team beat India 2-1 and Afghanistan 3-0 and then lost to Qatar 1-2, but came back and defeated Bangladesh 4-1 and India 1-0. The remaining teams in the group – Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh – are competing with each other to qualify for the final round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.