Al Rayyan captain and 2015-16 Qatar Football Association (QFA) Player of the Year Rodrigo Tabata has had a season to remember, helping his side to win the Qatar Stars League (QSL) title and notching the top-scorer award. Now the prolific striker has expressed his satisfaction that the club will be moving in to their new training facilities ahead of the coming season, as the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) completes construction on the state-of-the-art facility.
“I am thankful that the Supreme Committee have looked after the club’s requirements and invested in the facility, which I am sure will be top class,” Tabata told www.sc.qa on the sidelines of the QFA Awards. “I look forward to training there ahead of the new season.”   
The new training facilities will be located next to the site where Al Rayyan Stadium – the club’s new home ground and a proposed host venue for matches up to the quarter-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar – is currently being constructed. Tabata was also present when the design for the new stadium was revealed last year.
The Al Rayyan fans’ favourite, who shared the season’s Mansour Muftah top-scorer award with El Jaish forward Abdulrazak Hamdullah, predicted a tougher 2016-17 title defence for the ‘lions’.
“El Jaish were very strong in the second half of this season and they have had a good run in the AFC Champions League as well. Lekhwiya and Al Sadd are strong contenders and Al Arabi and Al Gharafa are outsiders. So there will be a close fight next year.”
Tabata also pointed out that the whole country was behind the Qatar team entering the final phase of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying in September.
“Qatar will give 100 percent and more. Every single one of us wants to qualify for Russia 2018. There is good internal competition for places, which has lifted each one’s level. We are willing to look everybody, including Asian heavyweights Iran and South Korea, in the eye and fight it out. Fighting hard and getting good results in the qualifiers will instil confidence in the youngsters leading up to 2022.
“Playing a FIFA World Cup in front of home fans will be a historic occasion and the national squad is eagerly looking forward to giving a performance befitting the first ever Middle Eastern tournament,” added Tabata, whose 21 goals in 24 QSL matches were the driving force behind Al Rayyan’s first title win since 1994-95.   
Tabata also shed light on the prevailing mindset in Jose Carreno’s side, who will play their first match in third round qualifying in Tehran’s Azaadi Stadium on September 1. “Iran and South Korea have achieved a lot in Asian football but we will not be overawed against them. The first game against Iran is the biggest challenge. We need to go there to fight and claim three points. The mindset will not be to come away with a point.”
Tabata said his previous experience of playing in one of Asia’s iconic football venues will prove beneficial in the opener. “I have played at the Azaadi in the AFC Champions League – playing in front of 100,000 away fans is a massive challenge but a positive one. This is what you look forward to as a footballer and I am sure the atmosphere in Tehran will lift my performance as well as that of my teammates.”
The skilful forward also contributed 10 assists in the QSL season, his best since joining the club in 2011-12, and thanked coach Jorge Fossati – who won the QFA Coach of the Year Award – for devising a system to bring out the best in himself as well as fellow attackers Sebastian Soria and Sergio Garcia.
“The coach was very flexible and told the three of us to interchange positions at will. Winning was important, not who scored the goal. I also have to thank my other teammates who were fantastic right through the season. They deserve my awards as much as I do,” concluded Tabata. (SC.qa)