Reigning Asian Champions Face UEFA Teams Ahead of 2022 World Cup
As hosts of the 2022 World Cup, the Qatar National Team automatically qualified to play at the world’s most venerated tournament. However, qualifying for the competition is just the tip of the iceberg for the host nation’s squad. To succeed, they will need to capitalise on the major strides they have made in recent years. To help them maximise their golden opportunity, the team are heading to Europe and the European World Cup 2022 qualifiers.
Set to kick-off in March 2021 and conclude in March 2022 with the tournament playoffs, the European qualifiers will see sixteen of the world’s top 25 football teams in action - the standard of play will be first-rate. As UEFA’s guests to the tournament, Qatar will gain invaluable experience against a different type of opponent with a distinct style of play - currently none of Qatar’s squad play in Europe. And, no matter the outcome (the host team match results don’t officially count), the challenge will benefit the Qatari game and provide vital preparation for the 2022 competition.
So, who will the Qatari squad be up against?
Qatar’s team will be joining Group A, alongside Portugal, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. The draw means that the Qataris will compete with some of Europe’s top teams - FIFA currently ranks Portugal as 5th in the world, Serbia 30th and the Republic of Ireland 42nd. Indeed, Portugal is the current European Champions, they have qualified for every World Cup since the turn of the 21st century, and they count one of the greatest players of all time and top 10 goal scorers, Christiano Ronaldo, as one of their team. There will definitely be a few takeaways for the Qatari squad after playing against these giants.
Qatar’s first match will be against Luxembourg on March 24th, their final against Azerbaijan on November 14th. In between, they will face each team twice, home and away. However, Qatar’s ‘home’ matches will be played in Europe to ensure shorter travel times for their opponents.
Preparing for the World Cup
The Al Annabi Boys, as they are known locally, have been on their mission to be counted at the World Cup 2022 for some time. And, the team has made substantial progress since Qatar first won its bid to host the tournament in 2010. At the time, the team was ranked by FIFA as 112th in the world; today, they sit at 58th. In Asia, thanks to their Asian Cup win in 2019, they are ranked 5th (and the top team in the Middle East).
With many of the current squad graduating from Qatar’s premier sports academy, Aspire Academy, and progressing from the junior teams to the senior team under the tutelage of Spanish coach Felix Sanchez Bas, their growing strength is easy to chart. From the Under-19 AFC Asian Championship win in 2014 to the AFC Asian Cup win in 2019, where they won all seven of their matches, beating three sides currently ranked above them along the way, the Qataris appear to be going from strength to strength in Asian football. But, what about against the rest of the world?
Qatar hasn’t played against European teams since 2018 when they played Switzerland and Iceland, whom they beat and drew against respectively. Playing against UEFA teams next year ahead of the World Cup will be a significant step in expanding the team’s European experience. The national team will also be up against some of the big contenders from South America in 2021 when they play, again as guests, in the next Copa America tournament. Their last foray into South American football, at the Copa America in 2019, wasn’t overly successful. Still, the team will be significantly more prepared to meet the continent’s more flamboyant style of game this time around. In addition, the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament is also hosting Qatar as guests in 2021. The Maroons will be grouped with Honduras, Panama and Grenada, giving them a good flavour of Central American and Caribbean football. Having played a friendly against Ghana in the October 2020 window, by the start of the 2022 tournament, the Qatari squad will have had plenty of competitive experience against teams from nearly every continent.
In terms of readiness for 2022, the national team of Qatar are being put through their paces. Only time will tell but, this relatively new footballing nation intends making their mark!
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