Qatar’s Al Annabi Boys End Their Qualifiers Campaign On A High
The evening of June 7th saw a victorious Qatar celebrate a successful offensive at the 2022 World Cup qualifiers to win their spot at the AFC 2023 Asian Cup tournament. With a 1-0 triumph over Oman, the Qatari squad will advance directly to the 2023 event in China, where they will be battling it out against 23 other Asian teams to retain their Asian Champions crown. For the rest of Qatar’s qualifying group (Group E), the contest for a place at the World Cup and the Asian Cup continues…
The Qualifying Tournament
The Asian World Cup qualifiers have been underway since June 2019 and are set to continue until June 2022. The tournament will decide which Asian teams will take their place at Qatar's 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has been assigned just 4.5 slots at the 2022 event. Throughout the first two rounds of the qualifying competition, the battle between the contesting teams has been fierce. However, it is not just a spot at the World Cup the teams are fighting to gain. The Asian squads are also grappling for their places at the 2023 Asian Cup tournament to be held in China - the first two rounds of the World Cup qualifiers also serve as the initial qualifying rounds of the 2023 football event.
Round Two of the Asian World Cup qualifiers will decide which twelve teams (eight group winners and the four best runners-up) will advance to the qualifying tournaments third round beginning in September 2021. In Round Three, the twelve winning teams from Round Two will be whittled down to the top four, who will take their place in the 2022 World Cup lineup. The final slot for the World Cup will be contested at inter-confederation playoffs in June 2022 and will include the next two highest-placed squads from Round Three.
In addition, the twelve qualifying teams from Round Two of the 2022 qualifiers are also granted direct entry to the Asian Cup tournament. To make up the competition's 24 entrants, the final twelve squads are decided by a separate contest: in which the next sixteen highest-ranked teams from the 2022 Round Two qualifiers play in a final round, alongside an additional eight squads decided via playoffs between the 2022 qualifiers last placed teams.
As hosts of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has been automatically awarded a place at the tournament. However, the Qatari squad needed to join the initial 2022 qualifying rounds to win their spot at the 2023 Asian Cup. As reigning champions of the Cup, having won the competition in 2019, the team's reputation and confidence required their entry into the 2023 event as winners of their World Cup qualifying group. Throughout Round Two, the team's performance did not disappoint - despite the issues and problems caused to the competitions timings during the Covid pandemic. Round Two of the tournament got underway successfully in 2019, with Qatar taking the top spot in its group early on, only to be postponed time and time again during 2020. When eventually the competition resumed in 2021, the Qataris continued their lead with a win against India and a victory against the Omanis in their final group match.
Before the Group E Qatar vs Oman match on June 7th, Qatar had enjoyed an unbeaten run throughout the tournament - only a goalless draw against India at the start of the campaign stopped the Qataris from winning every match in their competition.
Group E's teams (Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India) played a series of home-and-away matches in a round-robin format, as with all groups in the tournament. Qatar's first outing against Afghanistan saw the Qatari squad thump the Afghans 6-0. After which, they drew with India 0-0, defeated Bangladesh 2-0, and pipped the Omanis to the post with a 2-1 score. In their next meeting, the Al Annabi Boys racked up five goals to zero against the Bangladeshis, and 1-0 scores against Afghanistan and India, placing them at the top of the group standings on 19 points and with a goal difference of 16. Oman, after five matches only, sat in second place on 12 points. To win the group, Qatar only needed to avoid defeat against the Omanis. On the other hand, to displace Qatar, Oman needed to win against the Qataris and win the upcoming matches against both Afghanistan (June 11th) and Bangladesh (June 15th).
While Qatar's manager Felix Sanchez was reportedly confident in his squads' abilities, he also warned of complacency before the game. The Omanis, currently ranked only 22 places behind Qatar in the FIFA rankings, were in a good position, with two games in hand, to overtake Qatar in the standings. Plus, Oman's squad is, according to Sanchez, a strong team with quality players, who were coming into the game having gained two recent international wins (friendlies) against Thailand and Indonesia. And, to date, The Reds (Al Ahmar) had lost only one match throughout the tournament - that played against Qatar.
Pre-match predictions did not anticipate an easy game for either side.
On the day, Qatar was the more dominant team on the pitch. During the first half of the game, the Qataris monopolised the ball, were more accurate in their passing and took the most shots at goal. The Omanis, by comparison, were playing a more defensive game, only taking one shot at goal in the opening minutes - an attempt thwarted by Qatar's goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb. Oman's defensive strategy paid off in the short term, helped by Qatar's inability to finish well during the match, and they managed to hold off numerous shots by the Qataris until the 40th minute of the game. Just before the break, a foul on Qatar's Almoez Ali allowed Hassan Al Haydos to fire home a penalty from the spot with superb accuracy. The goal gave the Al Annabi Boys the lead going into half-time.
During the second half of the match, the Omanis stepped up their pace, evening out possession and spending more time on the ball. However, The Reds could not keep the ball past the centre line long enough to make any meaningful attempts to score. Although, they did manage to hold the Qataris to just one goal during the game. For Qatar, that's all they needed to secure their victory and their place at the 2023 Asian Cup.
While Qatar can celebrate their success and rest up before their next international outings at the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament and the UEFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers, the rest of Group E's teams must complete their final Round Two games.
Oman will be hoping to beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh to secure their chances of advancing to Round Three of the World Cup qualifiers and either a direct place at the Asian Cup or the final round. (As Qatar have already qualified for the World Cup, Oman still have a chance to enter Round Three of the 2022 qualifiers - depending on their final Round Two position).
Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India are out of the running for the World Cup but will be fighting for their places at the Asian Cup over the coming week. Having beaten Bangladesh on June 7th, India now sits in third place on 6 points. They will be hoping for a win against Afghanistan on June 15th to secure their chances of competing in the final round of the Asian Cup qualifiers. However, Afghanistan has a game in hand and could leapfrog India if they beat Oman on June 11th. Bangladesh are in 5th place and, unless they beat Oman on June 15th and Afghanistan fail to win either of their upcoming matches, are more likely to enter the playoffs for a place in the final round of the 2023 qualifiers.
The twelve teams advancing to Round Three of the World Cup qualifying tournament and the 2023 Asian Cup have, following numerous delays, finally been decided!
South America has completed qualifying matchdays 7 and 8 and, while the top three teams remain the same, the rest of the standings have had a complete reshuffle.
2022 World Cup hosts Qatar maintained their standing at the top of the table for Group E in the latest Asian qualifiers with a hard-won win against India.
The 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Asia resume shortly - Qatar has finalised its hosting preparations, but COVID-19 has forced hosts China to rethink its plans.