Full-strength Qatar raring to have a go at Iraq in the opener.

Asian champions Qatar has welcomed back key defender Abdulkarim Hassan back in training as the home team – under coach Felix Sanchez – prepare for the opening clash of the Gulf Cup against Iraq on Tuesday.

Hassan, last year’s Asian Player of the Year winner, did not make the trip to Tajikistan last week where Qatar beat Afghanistan 2-0 in a 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup joint qualifying match in Dushanbe.

Sanchez, who guided the team to a spectacular Asian Cup title win early this year, did not take four others for the match in Dushanbe in a bid to give recovery time to his players for the eight-team Gulf Cup from November 26 to December 8.

The Qatar coach is set to announce the squad tomorrow, just a day ahead of the region’s most popular national team event.

Key strikers Hassan Al Haydos, Akram Afif and Almoez Ali – the stars from the Asian Cup title victory – are also fit for the tournament.

Hassan, who was on the pitch for a record time last year, is a certainty in the squad after he trained with his team-mates at Aspire Academy.

Qatar’s first match against Iraq on Tuesday at the iconic Khalifa International Stadium has Al Annabi’s central defender and defensive midfielder Karim Boudiaf excited.

“We are excited to be hosting the event and we are getting ready for a big tournament and that too on home soil,” Boudiaf, 29, said in an interview after the training yesterday.

“However, the Gulf Cup is undoubtedly a difficult assignment,” the Al Duhail player added.

“Our group is difficult because it includes strong teams like the UAE and Iraq,” Boudiaf said.

“Although we surpassed them in the last Asian Cup since then a lot of new developments have taken place,” Boudiaf said about his team’s 4-0 win over the UAE in the semi-finals of the Asian Cup earlier this year.

“First of all, we are facing Iraq in the opening clash and that is a tough side. It will not be easy in this tournament,” he warned.

“Playing well in the opening match is important,” he added.

“Of course, we will go step by step,” he said.

“We expect to receive great support from our fans, who will follow us in this competitive tournament. We are playing in an event on home soil for the first time since we won the Asian Cup,” Bouadiaf said.  “We hope to have the necessary support from our fans,” he added.

The players returned to training after being given 48 hours rest by coach Sanchez. Qatar has played an astonishing 16 matches this year.

Meanwhile Yemen coach Sami Hasan Al Nash praised Qatar for giving his side the ‘best of facilities to train and for the matches’

Qatar will host the Gulf Cup matches at the Khalifa International Stadium and Al Duhail Stadium.

“Qatar is wonderful news for football teams and fans. The atmosphere here is distinctive,” Sami Hassan said in an interview.

“We are in a lovely country. You can feel there is a great organization and the hosts want a big success out of the tournament,” Sami Hassan added.

The coach added: “As you know, we were the first team that arrived in Doha in preparation for the Gulf Cup matches. We want to optimize our chances of doing well. We are ready for the tournament.”

“Yemen has recently improved its technical level for the best during the West Asian Championship and in the qualifiers for the World Cup Qatar 2022 and Asian Cup China 2023. We have a young group of players.

There is widespread praise for our courage but our ambition will not stop at this level. We hope to continue the good performances,” he added.

The coach said: “We are not at the level of other teams in the tournament but we are ready to give ourselves the chances to do well and compete well with the strong sides.”

When asked about his team’s opening clash against the UAE on Tuesday at Al Duhail Stadium, Sami Hassan said: “We have seen the results of the UAE in the recent period. Our task before them will not be easy. The UAE team has top players. And those players play well collectively and at individual levels.”

Coach Sami Hassan said the increase in the number of teams is ‘a positive step’ for the promotion of the Gulf Cup.

“It is a very positive step because the more games the young players play, the better they get. We hope to gain experience in the tournament in three matches we play,” he said.

Regarding his expectation at the 24th Gulf Cup, Sami Hassan said: “Gulf Cup always throws up many surprises. The closest one in the last tournament was when Oman won the championship by beating the UAE in the final (in Kuwait). That was a big surprise.”

Credit to the Peninsula

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