Hassan al-Haydos is gung-ho about Qatar chances in the AFC Asian Cup beginning in the UAE on January 5, saying the players have the ability to ensure the nation’s best-ever show in the continental showpiece.
The Qatar captain’s confidence stems from a series of positive results under Spanish coach Felix Sanchez, who combines positivity with a strict regimen that has turned the team into a determined and focused unit.
In recent friendlies, Qatar shocked the world’s eighth-ranked team Switzerland 1-0 besides playing out a 2-2 against Iceland, who had beaten England to reach the quarter-finals of the 2016 UEFA European Championship before going down to France.
Over the past few days in Doha, Qatar have also beaten Jordan and Kyrgyzstan in two pre-Asian Cup friendlies. They have another friendly, against Iran, lined up for Monday.
Qatar’s performance at the continental level, however, has been patchy. In nine appearances in the Asian Cup so far, Qatar have reached the quarter-finals only twice – in 2000 and 2011– but al-Haydos reckons the time has now come to go even further.
“I think we can go beyond the quarter-finals in the UAE. We have very talented players and an excellent coach who has been with team for one-and-a-half years,” al-Haydos told the Gulf Times in an exclusive interview.
“On top of that we have a very supportive national federation who are in sync with the team’s requirements,” al-Haydos, who has played about 115 matches for the national team, added.
The wins over Switzerland and other teams, he said, have only encouraged the team.
“There is no pressure on us (because of raised expectations). In fact the recent results have only motivated us. We are satisfied with our preparations. We hope to continue with our strong performance in the Asian Cup. We feel comfortable, we enjoy the game.”
The 28-year-old Al Sadd star added that Qatari players have an extra responsibility to do well because the country will be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
“It’s a very important year for us as we are competing in the Asian Cup as well as the Copa America. I have to thank the federation for Qatar getting an invite to the Copa America which is one of the toughest tournaments in the world.
“Then we have the World Cup coming up in four years. These tournaments are part of our preparations for the FIFA World Cup. The Copa America, especially, is a very big, competitive tournament.”
Qatar will be taking on Lebanon in their first match in the Asian Cup on January 9, and al-Haydos feels an opening win is important in any competition.
Qatar, who are in Group E, also have North Korea and Saudi Arabia for company.
“I think it’s a very difficult group. For example, Lebanon are a very improved team. North Korea are also strong and Saudi Arabia, of course, have won the Asian Cup three times.
“But we are also determined. Our preparations have been good. It would be great to win three points in the first match against Lebanon, and then take on other teams as the tournament progresses.
“There is plenty to play for.”
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