Marquez Lopez seems unperturbed despite a daunting task ahead of him over the next one month. The Spaniard was airlifted to coach the Qatar football team as a last-minute replacement after veteran manager Carlos Queiroz was shockingly fired last month.
Lopez – who has coached Qatar Stars League side Al Wakrah since 2018 – assumed the charge of the national team with little over a month to go for Qatar’s Asian Cup title cup defence. Now ahead of the hosts opener against Lebanon at the Lusail Stadium today, the 62-year-old said ‘pressure doesn’t faze him much’ as he prepares to revitalise a Qatar side that has unperformed in recent times.
The Al Annabi have barely reached the heights of their historic 2019 Asian Cup triumph in UAE, despite the core team from that side remaining as the mainstays.
In fact, the disastrous World Cup debut at home in 2022, where they lost all three of their group matches has only fuelled discussions about the need for significant changes within the team. But with not many youngsters rising through the ranks, Lopez will need to rely on the likes of captain Hassan al-Haydos and strikers Almoez Ali and Akram Afif as they also hope to handle the weight of expectations of playing in front of home fans.
Lopez, though, was upbeat about the team’s chances and said the aim is ‘ultimate goal is to reach the final’.
“We have undergone extensive preparation and certainly, it’s not an easy task especially with the limited time available,” Lopez said yesterday.
“I commenced training in the final week of December but despite the short duration, I am familiar with the players and their title ambitions. Working under pressure is something I’ve grown accustomed to over the years and it doesn’t faze me much. Leading a team that clinched the title in 2019 is an honour. When entering a competition, the ultimate goal is to reach the final. My players are well aware of my approach as head coach and our aim remains the same since the day I took over this role. The 2019 title provides us with an advantage, offering an additional positive to strive for – lifting the trophy once again,” the former Espanyol midfielder said.
Qatar should have little difficulty in emerging from the group which also has China and Tajikistan. But their real test will come up against Asian powerhouses Japan, South Korea and Iran in the knockout stages.
Qatar defeated Lebanon 2-0 at the same stage in UAE in 2019 and Lopez said he will instruct his players to adopt an aggressive approach today. “My primary philosophy revolves around attacking style, a principle I honed during my time at QSL side Al Wakrah. We must be bold, create chances and secure victories while maintaining that essential equilibrium.”
“Lebanon’s Hassan Maatouk is a key player, and they have a strong selection with 10 other skilled players supporting him. We won’t dwell on their weaknesses, instead, we hold great respect for the Lebanese team,” he observed.
Captain al-Haydos said they are not ready to relinquish their hold on the trophy. “It is a relatively good group where all the teams have very similar levels and tomorrow we are starting a new challenge for us,” the Al Sadd star said.
“I think the 2019 generation raised our levels and ambitions. We are always required to win in any game and championship we partake in. But challenges are part of football and I hope we can deal with this stress and pressure in a positive manner. We are playing the Asian Cup as title holders and in our own home, so we have to perform and show to the fans that we mean business,” he added.
Lebanon face a daunting task against a Qatar side they have not beaten in seven previous encounters (W6 D1) but head coach Miodrag Radulovic said his side are well prepared. “In football, progress takes time, it’s not an overnight achievement,” said Radulovic. “I know many of the players in this group, a combination of experience and youth. The results of the recent friendlies have indicated that we are on the right track. We are expecting a high-quality game against Qatar.
“Our goal is to fight for each point to advance to the next round. We have the potential, and I am optimistic about our chances. Tomorrow, we need to be psychologically prepared from the start. My message to the players is that we are playing for the three points.”

FIFA Ranking: 58
Best finish: Champions (2019)
Coach: Tintin Marquez (Spain)
Prospects: Qatar, led by Marquez since Carlos Queiroz was sacked in December, will be looking to bury the memory of their winless World Cup campaign as hosts in 2022.
The core of the young team that won the continental title in fine style in 2019 remains but recent results suggest they might struggle to replicate their fairytale run in the United Arab Emirates.

FIFA Ranking: 107
Best finish: Group stage (2000, 2019)
Coach: Miodrag Radulovic (Montenegro)
Prospects: Lebanon achieved their first Asian Cup finals victory with a 4-1 win over North Korea in 2019 but lost out on a place in the knockouts as one of the best third-placed teams because of their fair play rating.
Radulovic returned for a second spell as coach in December and has brought a string of experienced players back into the squad.
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