Doha, 16 November 2023 - After months of preparations involving training camps, friendlies and a Gold Cup appearance, Qatar get set for the real business – the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027 Joint Qualification campaign, one of the two prime targets for head coach Carlos Queiroz besides the Asian Cup title defence early next year.
Al Annabi have experienced mixed fortunes under Queiroz during their matches this year that saw them relishing a stunning victory over higher-ranked Mexico in the Gold Cup as a guest side, while also ruing a shock loss to Kenya at a home friendly.
But as they gear up to start their qualifying campaign, the Asian champions are hoping to be a side with better performance that can achieve the task of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in history after making their debut as hosts last year.
First up for them will be Afghanistan, who progressed through the preliminary qualifying stage to join Qatar, India and Kuwait in Group A.
Queiroz selected a mix of young and experienced players in his 26-man squad making several changes following last month’s Jordan International Quad Championship where his side lost to Iran in the final.
The veteran Portuguese kick started the team’s training camp on Thursday, assembling his players at the Aspire Academy where they are undergoing daily practice sessions.
Eyeing a winning start in the “challenging qualifiers”, the team is aiming to take on Afghanistan with full force in front of their home fans at the iconic Khalifa International Stadium tomorrow.
“We are looking to appear in these matches in a different way. These games are not friendly matches and we have to give our best for a successful campaign in these qualifiers. There are no easy teams as Asian sides have developed. As players, we are looking forward to play our part to achieve our goal which is the qualification,” Qatar defender Homam Al Amin said on sidelines of the camp.
“The first game is always important and we will have to play Afghanistan with full strength for a positive start,” the Al Gharafa star added.
Al Arabi midfielder Abdullah Al Marafi, said: “The group is not easy as it looks and we will have to give hundred percent to achieve success. We hope to see support from fans in our match against Afghanistan.”
After the home tie, Qatar will fly to Bhubaneswar to meet hosts India on November 21 in their second qualifying match.
Qatar will then begin their title defence in Asian Cup 2023 – scheduled from January 12 to February 10, 2024 – at home before resuming their qualifying battle with a match against Kuwait on March 21, 2024. They will meet them again in the return leg on March 26 while their return leg against Afghanistan is set for June 6, before the game against India five days later.
Queiroz has retained seasoned players in Hassan Al Haydos, Akram Afif and Almoez Ali in his latest squad while also calling up youngsters like talented Al Rayyan forward Ahmed Al Rawi.
The 70-year-old has been reshuffling the squad since taking over from Felix Sanchez after the World Cup, aiming to form the best combination for the qualifiers.
Qatar need a top two finish in their group as 18 sides from the 36-team second round will advance to the next round of World Cup qualifying besides sealing their spots for the 2027 Asian Cup.
The 18 teams will then be divided into three groups with top two teams from each group will be earning direct qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2026.