Motivation, commitment: two words Felix Sanchez cannot cut out from a conversation, two words that form the very focal point of his life in football, two simple words that are not out of place in the context of a school competition as well as that of a global sporting showpiece.
Sanchez is a not a man with a penchant for blather. He gives few press conferences, reluctantly attends gala dinners, shies away from publicity and prefers to be dressed in tees and jeans. He is a man of action, who is most comfortable in the company of his players.
Twelve years since he took a flight to Qatar from Spain to work with the Aspire Academy’s football project, Sanchez has come a long way. Several aspiring footballers with whom he first interacted when they were mere kids are now part of the Asian Cup winning national team. Now they have set their sights on making a mark on an entirely new and somewhat unlikely stage for Asian teams – the Copa America, the oldest continental football championship in the world which debuted in 1916 when it was called the South American Championship.
As far as Qatar is concerned, it’s a tournament that existed only in a somewhat mythical realm where Pele (1959) and other South American legends dazzled worldwide audiences with their distinct flair and style. Now thanks to an invite as a guest team from hosts Brazil, Qatar can get a taste of the unique culture of football that makes teams such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay stand out.
“The Copa America is a totally different competition. For the first time ever Qatar is getting an opportunity to play against some of the best teams in South America. It’s going to be a very big challenge,” Sanchez said during a press conference yesterday.
The 12-team event which kicks off on June 16 and concludes on July 7 sees Qatar placed in Group B along with Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay, teams against whom Qatar have never played before in tournaments at the senior level.
“It’s going to be a big challenge but at the same time it’s also a great opportunity to gain some great experience. Many of the teams in the tournament, like Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have won the World Cup several times. But our players have the motivation, the commitment. They are looking forward to it.”
Sanchez added that after the Asian Cup triumph earlier this year, Qatari players have hardly had any rest with the season yet to get over.
“It has been a long season. Two of the clubs from which the majority of the national team players are (Al Sadd and Al Duhail) are playing the Amir Cup final after their league engagements. They are also involved in the AFC Champions League. But they are ready to give their everything (at the Copa America).”
Sanchez has already started training with players who are available while waiting for the others to complete the season.
“The training has started but there is still time for the final team of 23 players to be selected and submitted by the end of the month from an initial list of 40. It’s only normal that at the end of a season you have players with injuries. We have to deal with that.
“As of now, Bassam (al-Rawi) seems to have suffered an injury. We are waiting for scans. We are also waiting on the fitness of Karim Boudiaf and Sultan al-Brake plus some others.”
Qatar will hold a training camp in the US before flying out to Brazil for the tournament, but before that they have the simple matter of facing the Selecao in an international friendly on June 5 at the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a match that the Qatar football community is greatly excited about, and sure enough the question popped up as to how his players would tackle Neymar.
“There are not many difficult things to do than playing against Brazil,” Sanchez said. “Of course, if Neymar plays we will try our best to minimise his impact on the match but they also have other great players.”
After the match against Brazil on June 5, Qatar will have a closed door game against a club team on June 9 before taking on Paraguay on June 16.
Sanchez added that he was not thinking about the results in the tournament.
“We will try our best to compete. Let’s see how far we can go. In any case the experience of playing in the Copa America would be of great help to the players. They will be much better players after that. It will help them for the big challenges ahead, especially the 2022 World Cup.”
Sanchez also thanked the Qatar Football Association for extending his contract through to 2022 when Qatar hosts the FIFA World Cup.
“I am grateful to the QFA President (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani) for trusting me and my team. Of course our priority was to continue working in Qatar and carry on with the work we were doing. We hope to keep giving good results.”
He, however, said whatever success he achieved with the team was the result of teamwork.
“It has been 12 years since I am here. The country had big plans for football and I am personally proud and honoured to be part of the journey. But there were lots of efforts put in by others, most notably Aspire, the QFA, the medical and technical staff.
“They created the perfect environment for me to stay motivated and committed and also to keep the players motivated and committed.”
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