Doha, 21 January 2024 - Qatar midfielder Ahmed Fathy insists he and his teammates will not ease off in their meeting with China PR at Khalifa International Stadium on Monday despite having secured their place in the last 16 of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ as Group A winners.
Fathy has played a leading role thus far, one of only six players Marquez Lopez has chosen to start both their matches against Lebanon and Tajikistan - having only featured in one game during Qatar's title-winning run in 2019.
Wins over Lebanon and Tajikistan mean Lopez’s side are guaranteed to top the standings ahead of the knockout rounds, but Fathy stressed the defending champions want to go into the next phase of the competition maintaining their current momentum.
“After winning against Tajikistan we guaranteed our qualification and we lead the group,” he said. “However, after that game we vowed as players that we still have one game to play against China and we want to win."
“In such competitions, if you relax after qualifying it’s going to affect your performance, (it’s important) to continue the winning mentality in the next phase.
“Every player has put in a great performance mentally and it’s our goal to enter the knockout stage with nine points, with the best level possible.”
The Chinese have yet to win – or score – at Qatar 2023, registering goaless draws with Lebanon and Tajikistan, but Fathy remains wary of Aleksandar Jankovic’s team despite their struggles in front of goal.
“We know the China team is entering the game to qualify,” he said. “This is their main purpose and this is why we say it will be a difficult game, but we’ll be playing for the win regardless of who is playing against us.”
China know victory will take them into the next round while a draw could still be enough to secure one of the four berths available to the third-placed finishers, and defender Wang Shangyuan is relishing the opportunity to take on the tournament hosts.
“Now the scenario is quite clear,” said the Henan FC defender. “Qatar have already qualified from the group stage and we still have the chance in our hands.
“The players will keep following the tactics of the coach and we will try to do our best against Qatar to win the points and go to the next stage. We respect Qatar’s performances in the last two games, but we’re all excited and we want to show our best performance tomorrow.”
After witnessing several unexpected outcomes in the group stage so far, Wang has been encouraged by the shrinking gap between the continent’s leading teams and the rest.
“I’ve watched almost all the games in the group stages and the distance between the traditionally strong teams and the relatively weak teams is smaller,” he said.
“This proves the football level in Asia has made progress but we have seen teams like Japan and Saudi Arabia still have a lot of things for us as teams to learn from. But there are no more relatively weak teams in Asia. Everybody has made progress.”