Gulf Cup: Asian champions Qatar eye second major trophy in 2019

In the next two weeks, Qatar’s football team can end 2019 the way it started – with a title win.

In February this year, Felix Sanchez’s young squad stunned football fans in the region with an unbeaten seven-match streak that wrapped up a memorable Asian Cup title triumph, the country’s first in 11 attempts.

Not only did Qatar beat teams like Japan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, South Korea in their spectacular run of form at the Asian Cup, they also scooped the top awards from the 24-team event held in the UAE.

Striker Almoez Ali smashed seven goals in the event to win the Golden Boot award while Saad Al Sheeb was named Goalkeeper of the Tournament.

Ali, who won praise from popular coach Jose Mourinho for his seven goals and ‘high match awareness’, will be Sanchez’s key man at the eight-team Gulf Cup set to begin in Doha tomorrow.

Al Sheeb will be just as important for coach Sanchez as Qatar – the three-time Gulf Cup champions – will look to impress their fans on home soil against Iraq in the tournament opener at the iconic Khalifa International Stadium.

Coach Sanchez yesterday announced the squad for the region’s most popular national team event with no surprises in his 23-man squad.

Ali will be partnered by captain and Al Sadd stalwart Hassan Al Haydos and Akram Afif, the young striker who has been shortlisted for the AFC Player of the Year award for this year.

Last year’s Asian Player of the Year award winner Abdelkarim Hassan is also part of the squad following a short rest with the national side.

The 2019 Gulf Cup – set to feature regional giants Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and defending champions Oman – will be the first event for Qatar following their historic Asian Cup triumph almost 10 months ago.

Sanchez’s squad will arrive in the pitch for the opening clash as the tournament favorite having played a staggering 16 matches this year alone. The fixtures this year also include Copa America clashes against South American giants Paraguay (2-2 draw), Colombia (1-0 defeat) and Argentina (2-0 defeat).

Qatar also played an international friendly against five-time World Cup winners Brazil before their Copa America campaign in June this year.

Following the summer, Qatar has posted five wins with just one draw in their 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup joint qualifying matches.

Qatar, hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, have beaten Afghanistan twice and posted a win each over Oman, Bangladesh, and Singapore (in a friendly). The only draw came against India in September.

Sanchez, during a football conference at Aspire Academy last month, attributed Qatar’s success to astute planning from the football-loving country.

“It’s important to have targets. There are clear targets for this team. The plan for the players is to arrive for the 2022 (FIFA) World Cup in the right shape,” Sanchez said on day two of the Aspire Academy Global Summit last month.

“This is a good target to have,” the Spaniard added.

“It’s not me alone working on this target. The whole country is working on a plan. They have built the Aspire Academy. So there is a plan. Everyone is aware of the (new) target. It (FIFA World Cup) is a very important competition. There is good coordination among QFA, the Aspire Academy and the football clubs,” Sanchez noted.

“Currently we have (World Cup and Asian Cup) qualifiers to play and then the Copa (next year). These are good targets to have,” Sanchez said.

Going by what Sanchez says, Qatar will clearly be looking to nail their fourth Gulf Cup crown when the event kicks -off tomorrow.

By Rizwan Rehmat I The Peninsula

Edited By Black Coffee

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