Doha, 2 November 2022 - Home expectations from Asian champions Qatar are very high, and understandably so. Making their FIFA World Cup debut, Qatar will open their campaign and the tournament against Ecuador on November 20th at the Al Bayt Stadium at 7pm (Doha Time) and the team has been making severe preparations for the last six months camping first in Austria and now in Spain.
Qatar’s seasoned Spanish coach Felix Sanchez spoke at length about his team and their World Cup hopes, aspirations and preparations in an interview with Spain’s Marca newspaper. “We have been working for many years and now we see it so close and we are looking forward to that day. But these remaining days are also important to finish preparing the team and reaching our best version,” he said of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
About his team’s final stretch and expectations from the Arab world’s first football’s greatest show, Sanchez said: “We have had a good preparation program, taking into account that we are Qatar, a small country with little experience, with players who have always played in Qatar, in a minor league. Being able to give them this international experience by playing tournaments like the Gold Cup or Copa America, as well as friendlies, has prepared us, although it will never be the same scenario or the same situation. We try to maintain normality. We already know that there is that pressure, and we don’t have to add to it. We have our routine, we try to isolate ourselves from the noise around us and focus on getting our best performance. It’s difficult because then you go onto the pitch, you see 60,000 people. It’s the first World Cup match and there’s so much expectation that it’s hard, but that experience will help them.”
Qatar makes Group A of the tournament along with Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands.
Sanchez is of the view that his team’s aim will be competing to the maximum. “We have never played in a World Cup, but Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands have. Our players play in Qatar Stars League, which is getting stronger, but is still far from the best in the world, which is where most of the players we are going to play against play. We will face teams that have reached the finals of a World Cup, are champions of Africa. Many players are the best in the world in their positions, with the World Cup and Champions League experience.... So we know what our role is, we know that we are not favourites, but also, within our possibilities, we must set high expectations, high goals, try to compete to the maximum. In 2019 it was very difficult to think that Qatar could win the Asian Cup and we won it. Obviously, I’m not talking about Qatar winning the World Cup, but competing at a good level against those three teams is our challenge. Then this is football, and you never know what can happen.”
On Qatar’s main strengths, Sanchez said, “At this level, there is a lot of physical difference with the other teams. We have talented players, we try to play as a unit and on the counter we can be dangerous. When we have the ball we try to manage, although we know that against opponents of this level, it is very difficult to take the initiative and we will have to adapt because that is the reality. It would be suicide to try to take the initiative if we want to be competitive. We try to be compact defensively, allow the minimum opportunities and be strong in transitions.”
Sanchez also termed Qatar’s group as strong and challenging. “I thought ‘We’ve been drawn in a very difficult group’. But, of course, then you look at all the groups and say to yourself ‘Well, with any group we would have said something similar’. It could have been stronger or weaker, but that’s the group we’ve been drawn in and it’s very difficult for Qatar. Ecuador for many is an unknown team that in South America has been the sensation. After Brazil and Argentina, who are in a league of their own, they have been up there. They have a new generation of players and have created a very competitive group, a team that is on the rise.”
Sanchez also stressed that most of the world’s players will be physically fresher and this will add to their performance and spectacle of the World Cup. “I think so. In terms of performance and spectacle, they will arrive at the best time of the year. In a World Cup at the end of the season there are players who, if they go far in competitions like the Champions League, will be physically and mentally exhausted. This will make a big difference, the players will arrive fresh and this will increase the quality of the matches. The spectators will enjoy it more,” he said.