Qatar Is Heading to America for the 2021 Gold Cup
The Qatar National Football Team is currently in the midst of a three-week training camp in Croatia, Europe. The training programme, which included a friendly against El Salvador - that the Al Annabi Boys won with a single goal in the 69th minute, is intended to prepare the squad for their upcoming debut at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States of America.
The team is predicted to do well at the Gold Cup tournament, which follows their recent success at the joint Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 Asian Cup. Though the Qatari team automatically qualified for the 2022 World Cup as hosts, they needed to win their qualifying group to advance directly to the Asian Cup competition in China in 2023. In the event, the squad won their group with aplomb. They won seven out of eight matches, with only India holding the team to a goalless draw. Indeed, the 2019 Asian Cup champions have been steadily rising in recent years on their journey to their first world cup. Sitting at 58 in the current FIFA rankings, the team has performed well at various international events in the last year or so. At the Copa America in 2019, though bottom of their group, the squad drew a respectable 2-2 against Paraguay, lost by only one goal to Columbia, and took on South American giants Argentina with only a two-goal loss. At the 2020 Gulf Cup, the team reached the semis, only to be knocked out by close rivals Saudi Arabia. The team has also won or drawn in all of their recent friendlies. In particular, they beat Luxembourg and Azerbaijan and drew against Ireland at the European 2022 qualifiers tournament. Invited to test their mettle against the Europeans, Qatar convincingly held their own.
Now with a raft of international experience under their belts, the Al Annabi Boys are heading to the States to hone their skills further...
What, Why, When, Where, Who and How?
What is the CONCACAF Gold Cup?
The Gold Cup is a biannual men's football competition held to determine the continental champions of North and Central America and the Caribbean. The flagship competition is organised and governed by the continents football confederation CONCACAF and has been running in its current format since 1991. Previously (1963 to 1989), the tournament was known as the CONCACAF Championships. As the CONCACAF Championships, the tournament only pitted the continent's top six teams against one another in a single round-robin format. And, from 1973 to 1989, the competition was only held every four years to double as the FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament for the Northern Americas. However, in 1991, alongside a name change to the Gold Cup, the event was reformatted again to run every two years (except for 2003's event, which ran only one year after the 2002 competition). The number of participating teams also increased from six to eight. Since that time, the number of teams involved has grown to sixteen (as of 2019).
Why is Qatar involved?
Since its inception as the Gold Cup, a guest team has been invited on a relatively regular basis to join the tournament. Initially, Brazil played alongside its northern neighbours in 1996, 1998, 2003 and 2005. Columbia, Peru and South Korea were invited to participate in 2000. Ecuador and South Korea, again, joined in 2002. Columbia also joined with Brazil in 2003 and South Africa in 2005. From 2007 to 2019, no guest teams were invited to take part in the event. However, for the upcoming 2021 competition, the 2022 FIFA World Cup host Qatar will participate as guests in the 2021 and 2023 tournaments - making the tiny Arab nation the first Gulf country to do so. The only other Asian nation to join the tournament was South Korea.
Qatar’s involvement in the tournament has obvious benefits for both CONCACAF teams and the Qatari national squad. Teams involved will gain valuable experience in terms of improving performances and understanding their counterparts style of play, especially in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup. However, there are less obvious benefits to Qatar’s participation.
CONCACAF and their Asian counterpart, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), have, over the years, developed a good working relationship. The two confederations have worked together on numerous joint initiatives designed to help build football across both regions. As part of their World Cup hosting responsibilities, Qatar has also set up several grassroots programmes to boost access to sports and football and to support the development of young people and communities through football. Working alongside CONCACAF and the AFC, the Qataris are hoping to enhance cross confederation relations and use their time as World Cup hosts to create a legacy of social development as far and as wide as possible. The Qatari national football team includes numerous ambassadors of Qatar's social development programme, Generation Amazing. Their presence at the Gold Cup, alongside the Generation Amazing team for the region, will help to highlight the country's work and the importance of football as a tool for development.
When and where is the tournament?
The 2021 Gold Cup is taking place in the United States of America for the 16th time since 1991. Matches will be played out in nine different stadiums in nine locations - Arlington, Austin, Dallas, Frisco, Glendale, Houston, Kansas City, Orlando and Paradise. The tournament will run from July 10th to August 1st.
The Qatari team will be based in Huston and will play their initial three games in the BBVA Stadium in the same city. The squad's first match kicks off on July 13th at 2 pm (local Qatari time).
Who is contesting the tournament?
Sixteen teams are fighting for their chance to be continental champions.
Twelve teams qualified directly via the 2019/2020 CONCACAF Nations League as winners and runners-up from League A and winners of League B.
Three teams entered the tournament via the Gold Cup qualifying competition (Nations League third-placed League A teams and the runners-up from Leagues B and C contest the qualifiers).
Qatar takes the final sixteenth slot.
The following teams will contest the tournament:
- Canada (Nations League)
- Costa Rica (Nations League)
- Curacao (Nations League)
- El Salvador (Nations League)
- Grenada (Nations League)
- Guadeloupe (Gold Cup qualifiers)
- Haiti (Gold Cup qualifiers)
- Honduras (Nations League)
- Jamaica (Nations League)
- Martinique (Nations League)
- Mexico (Nations League)
- Panama (Nations League)
- Qatar (Guest)
- Suriname (Nations League)
- Trinidad and Tobago (Gold Cup qualifiers)
- United States (Nations League)
The sixteen squads have been drawn into four groups of four. Qatar is in Group D with Grenada, Honduras and Panama. They will meet Panama on July 13th, Grenada on July 17th and Honduras on July 20th. Relatively evenly matched with Honduras, ranked 67th in the FIFA rankings, and Panama, ranked 78th, and, over 100 positions higher than 160th ranked Grenada, Qatar should be able to shine at the group stage if their current form continues.
How is the Gold Cup played out?
Each team will play each of the others in their respective group in a single round-robin format. The top two teams from each group will advance to the quarter-finals knockout stage. The four victors from the quarter-finals will contest the semis, and the top two teams will take on the final.
The quarter-finals will be held in Glendale and Arlington over July 24th and 25th, with the semis held on July 29th in Austin and Huston. The final will take place in Paradise, Nevada, at the new 61,000 capacity Allegiant Stadium on August 1st.
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