2022 World Cup host Qatar has won its first ever regional tournament, the Asian Cup. Qatar defeated the four-time previous winner of the Asia Cup, Japan, with a final score of 3 (Qatar) – 1 (Japan). Qatar controlled the dynamic of the match from the onset with a twelfth minute bicycle kick goal by Almoiz Ali – his ninth goal of the tournament. 15 minutes later, Abdulaziz Hatem, scored again for Qatar doubling their lead. In the 69th minute, Japanese forward Takumi Minamino, brought Japan back into the game with 21 minutes left of the game. Qatari player Akram Afif was able to cinch its lead with a penalty kick goal that was awarded following an accidental handball by the Japanese defense.
Qatari goalkeeper Saad el-Sheeb and striker Almoez Ali both received awards for their performances through the tournament. El-Sheeb was awarded the best goalkeeper award and Almoez Ali was awarded both the top goalscorer award and MVP award.
Yet, the question remains, “What did Qatar do to pull off this stunning victory?” Over the years, the small peninsular nation has drastically overhauled and improved its soccer establishment as it prepares to take the field in 3 years for the World Cup. The Qatar national team coach, Felix Sanchez Bas, deserves considerable credit for this accomplishment. Bas, a Spanish football manager, has been intrinsically involved in the formation of the Qatari national team and has previously worked with the under-19, under-20, and under-23 teams. Rather than import players, Bas has chosen to focus on Qatari-born and raised players by working closely with Qatar’s Aspire Academy.
The academy, a state-of-the-art training facility for young athletes, was established in 2004 and later incorporated into a larger umbrella organization, the Aspire Zone Foundation. The academy has been successful in both building and refining Qatari talent producing the likes of Akram Afif (first Qatari to play in Spain’s La Liga) and Abdulkarim Hassan (AFC 2018 player of the year).
Felix Sanchez Bas has chosen to focus on a ‘slow and steady’ strategy so that Qatari players can learn how to perform well under intense pressure gradually. At the start of the tournament, Bas committed to “isolate” the Qatari team from any politics at the Asian Cup. Qatar is currently under an illegal diplomatic and economic blockade by Asia Cup host country, the UAE. Since taking on the head coach position in 2017, Bas has focused on playing friendly international games with middle weight countries like Switzerland and Iceland. He stated in a New York Times article that these teams can teach “what it is to play at a high level, how quickly mistakes are punished.”
However, the credit for Qatar’s maiden victory at the Asia Cup does not lie solely on Felix Sanchez Bas but also on the players that performed wonderfully through the tournament. Sudanese born – Qatari raised Almoez Ali held the limelight by scoring the most goals for a single player. The teams chemistry and strategy has paid off as they now look forward to playing in Brazil for the Copa America tournament. Qatar has several years left to prepare for the 2022 World Cup and has so far brought its game face to the pitch.
(Image Source: Twitter – FIFA)