Former China coach Bora Milutinovic knows what it takes to help Asian nations make history. His team surprised the world by winning twenty of twenty-four possible points in their qualification campaign to progress to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the first time ever that China qualified for the world’s greatest football tournament.
Now the coach, who has led five different teams at World Cup finals – more than any other manager - believes Qatar can make history when they begin their third round 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualifiers in Tehran tomorrow.
“In Group A the favourites are South Korea and Iran, but I believe that Qatar and China can qualify,” Milutinovic told www.sc.qa. “My optimism is based on the quality of Qatar’s team. They have an average age of 25.5 years, and players with a lot of football quality and experience. This is fundamental in such games. It is always important to start well, and Qatar have a schedule which can help them reach a strong position in the group early on. They will face three teams who have previously played in World Cup finals - South Korea, Iran and China. However, I think Qatar played an excellent second round of qualifying.
“I believe Qatar can make it. They can finish in the top two or three. Qatar can seize the moment and it will be important to start well in Tehran in the most difficult game. I will also be watching the matches between Qatar and China with special interest as both teams are close to my heart.”
The Serbian coach, known as the ‘Miracle Maker’ in the USA for his work with the home team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA, reached the second round of the tournament with four of his previous teams. He points to the importance of assembling the right group of players and developing talented youngsters, which he believes Qatar have already achieved.
“Qatar have very skillful players and very good coaching staff. There is a young generation of Qatari players who will blend very well with the experienced ones,” he said.
“I believe that with the great work which the Qatar Football Association and Aspire Academy are doing the team have the potential to be part of a very positive qualification campaign. It will also be crucial to have the support of the home crowd in Doha. Euro 2016 illustrated how the connection between Iceland’s players and their fans helped the team.”
‘2022 world cup - a meeting point of different cultures’
Looking ahead to the 2022 edition of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the man who has also coached Mexico, Costa Rica and Nigeria said he believed the tournament would be a meeting point for different cultures.
“I have been lucky enough to be involved in the preparations from the beginning, and it has been a great honour to see how this country is preparing to host the most compact FIFA World Cup of all times. I know how well Qatar organises sporting events, so I think this will be the greatest tournament ever. It will be an opportunity for different cultures from East and West to meet in the middle and celebrate football together. God willing, I will be there to enjoy the tournament.”
The former China coach concluded by saying that the team he coached to the 2002 FIFA World Cup had a chance to impress in the current round of qualifiers: “China qualified for the third round in their last game of their second. Expectation is very big in China to qualify for Russia 2018. In recent years the players have gained a lot of international experience. Their coach has created a mentally strong unit, which is very important for these qualifiers. The schedule favours China, and it will be important for the players to believe that they can do it. The team will be backed by their fans to achieve the results that they need.”
Qatar coach Jose Daniel Carreno instructs players during a training session ahead of their 2018 World Cup qualifying third round match against Iran on September 1. (Below) Bora Milutinovic.