By Sports Reporter/Doha
Coach Felix Sanchez believes Qatar will have to stay patient and be disciplined when they take on Bangladesh in the Asian qualifiers for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023.
Qatar will look to move closer to confirming their place at the AFC Asian Cup today at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in a 7pm kick-off. The reigning Asian champions lead the Group E standings with 13 points from their first five games and, with a nine-point lead over third-placed Afghanistan and three matches remaining, the Qataris know a solitary point will take them four points clear of second-placed Oman. India have two points and Bangladesh prop up the table with one point.
Winning the group will assure Qatar their place in China 2023, which they can also achieve by finishing as one of the best four second-placed teams at the end of the second round of the Asian Qualifiers.
In what promises to be an absorbing tie, 1,800 tickets have been made available for fans to watch the first Asian Qualifiers match to be played in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic having forced the postponement of fixtures scheduled in March and June.
Qatar had played Bangladesh in the away game last year, and scraped to a 2-0 win. Sanchez’s men had a tough time on a waterlogged pitch in Dhaka, with goals from Yousuf Abdurisag and Karim Boudiaf giving them a hard-fought victory.
That memory is still fresh in Sanchez’s mind as the Spaniard urged his team to stay focused. “In Dhaka, Bangladesh played enthusiastically and defended strongly. The weather and the pitch also made things difficult for us. But the Bangladesh team is organised and plays collectively and therefore we have to be disciplined. We should avoid conceding goals in counterattacks,” he said yesterday.
Sanchez has named a strong squad for his side’s first competitive game in 2020, which comes just three weeks after Qatar slipped to a 2-1 loss at the hands of Korea Republic in a friendly in Austria, the third match without a win for the FIFA World Cup 2022 hosts.
Reigning AFC Player of the year Akram Afif and his predecessor Abdel Karim Hassan are among nine players from Qatar Stars League leaders Al Sadd to be included in the 23-man selection, while Almoez Ali, the leading scorer at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, is one of six from Al Duhail to feature.
Sanchez had not yet made up his mind of his starting XI. “We have an idea of the team that will start tomorrow, but will take a final decision after the last training session. Hope there will be no more injuries as some players have minor niggles. I’m confident that entire squad is ready to give their best,” he said.
The game will be Qatar’s first competitive match since losing 1-0 to Saudi Arabia in the semi-final of the Gulf Cup in December last year. Sanchez said he was delighted Qatar will playing an official game after almost a year. “It is an important competition and our players are excited for the competition to return again and we are all eagerly waiting for tomorrow’s match,” he said.
Bangladesh have not played in official competition for even longer due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Jamie Day’s side, who are bottom of the standings with a solitary point picked up in a 1-1 draw with India in October last year, last played competitively when they lost 4-1 to Oman in Group E action in November 2019.
However, Bangladesh have sought to regain fitness in recent weeks following a nationwide shutdown due to the pandemic, with Day’s side facing off twice in friendlies against Nepal last month, winning the first game 2-0 before the teams shared a 0-0 draw.
The victory over the Nepalese was Bangladesh’s second success in 2020, having picked up a 3-0 win over Sri Lanka in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup friendly tournament in Dhaka in January.
Bangladesh have since met amateur side Qatar Army and second division club Lusail Sports Club in training games in Doha, losing both matches, and assistant coach Stuart Watkiss knows his team face a major challenge against the Asian champions.
“You only get truly match-fit by playing competitive matches, but unfortunately we have still not played nearly enough,” Watkiss told The Daily Star. “Qatar’s players have played many matches, so they have an advantage in terms of fitness.”
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