Knowing SánchezThe man behind Qatar’s current football revolution as FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 beckons
On February 1, 2019, against all the odds, the Qatar National Football Team made history. The team became the football champions of Asia for the first time after winning the AFC Asian Cup held in neighbouring UAE. All eyes were riveted on the match, but some will have noticed a bearded and stocky man, easily identified by his black tracksuit, shouting instructions to the team throughout the tournament, his name - Félix Sánchez Bas.
Arguably Sánchez is Qatar’s most successful national football team manager in history. This 44-year-old Spaniard, who is likely to be at the helm of affairs when Qatar hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2022, has had a major impact on Qatar’s football, probably more than anyone else since the game was introduced to the country in the 1940s.
Transforming the Qatari Game
Sánchez has succeeded in transforming the national team from perennial underachievers, especially at the continental level, to a dynamic force in just two years. Qatar is currently ranked by FIFA as the best team in the region, and the 55th best in the world - a testimonial to the wits and technical expertise of this Barcelona-born manager.
Sánchez, who replaced Jorge Fossati at the helm of the senior side in 2017, started his sojourn in Qatar in 2006, previously handling the youth team of FC Barcelona (La Masia) for ten years. He began his career in Qatar at the renowned Aspire Academy, a sports academy for talented young athletes, where his previous experience with the lads at La Masia came in handy.
During his time at the Academy, he guided the ‘Aspire Football Dreams’ team (age group 1999) to win the Mediterranean International Cup (MIC) 2013 in Spain. They defeated RCD Espanyol 2-1 in the final. Sánchez was also in charge as the Aspire 1998 team (age group 1998) won the 2013 Aspire Triangular tournament, a tournament that featured football youth clubs such as Gheorghe Hagi Football Academy, and Schalke 04.
Sánchez’s success with the Aspire Academy kids did not go unnoticed and he was subsequently given a bigger task to handle in 2013 – the Qatar National Under-19 team.
Identifying the best talents available, Sánchez tactically assembled a U19’s squad comprising of graduates and student-athletes of Aspire Academy. The squad went on to beat a losing streak that had lasted more than 30 years. The team claimed its first AFC U-19 Championship title after a 1-0 victory over DPR Korea in the final of the 2014 edition of the tournament, hosted by Myanmar in Yangon.
That Sánchez guided the team to a win in Yangon was victory enough, but getting a team to the 2015 U-20 FIFA Youth World Cup for the first time in 34 years made the triumph even sweeter and more significant.
Indeed, the Qatari U-19 team had not qualified for the U-20 FIFA Youth World Cup since 1981 in Australia. In that year, Qatar finished as runner-up after stunning the world by making an impressive run to the final match. They defeated both Brazil and England, before a painful 4-0 defeat by West Germany at Sydney Cricket Ground on October 18.
"I'm very happy for this incredible achievement, especially for the players who have shown great attitude throughout and were a pleasure to work with during this whole tournament. We knew that it was a good opportunity for us to end this title drought and the players did everything to win this championship for themselves and for the country of Qatar," Sánchez said after the trophy presentation in Yangon.
Two players of his team received top honours at the end of the tournament. Ahmed Moeen was named ‘Player of the Tournament’, while his teammate, Ahmed Al Sadi, won the golden boot as the tournament’s ‘Top Scorer'.
Sánchez and the team returned to Qatar to a hero’s welcome. Sánchez subsequently led the Under-20 team to New Zealand where they, unfortunately, could not advance beyond the group stages.
The coach was then drafted into the U23’s team where he recorded several significant victories. Those victories included leading the team to the last four of the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship hosted by Qatar. The team were edged out 1-3 by South Korea, who was subsequently defeated by Japan 3-2 in the final.
Now in charge of the senior national team, Sanchez has gone on to significantly build on the success at Myanmar, culminating in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup win. The victorious group of players from that winning team now form the nucleus of the team preparing for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
With players like the ‘AFC Player of the Year 2019’, Akram Afif, the ‘2019 AFC Asian Cup Best Player’ and ‘Top Scorer’, Almoez Ali, the ‘2019 AFC Asian Cup Best Goalkeeper’, Saad Al Sheeb, and the ‘AFC Player of the Year 2018 ‘, Abdelkarim Hassan among the talents spotted or nurtured by Sanchez, it is safe to say that Qatari football is in safe hands. It is also safe to say that the best is yet to come as Qatar sets its sights on the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in two years.
Mabrook Sanchez! Mabrook Qatar!!!
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