Felix Sanchez is a calming influence in the Qatar camp. As the Khalifa International stadium, filled with more than 44,000 spectators, went berserk every time a Qatar goal was scored against the UAE on Monday, Sanchez merely did a fist pump on the touchline.
Qatar’s head coach is not the one to show too many emotions, be it in a victory or defeat. While the players led by Asian player of the year Akram Afif celebrated on the pitch after a 4-2 win over UAE to confirm Qatar’s place in the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup semi-finals, Sanchez disappeared into the dressing room.
The 43-year-old may well have been planning Qatar’s tactics for the last-four fixture against Saudi Arabia, which will be held at the Al Janoub Stadium Thursday. Sanchez has been given much credit for turning a talented bunch of footballers into Asia’s best but the Spaniard chooses to stay away from the limelight, as he praised his players for their worth ethic.
“My players deserve all the credit,” said Sanchez on Monday. “They are working hard because they live the game. They are showing their ability to the world and deserve all the success. They are really professionals and they don’t need to be motivated by me. They don’t have to be pushed hard in training. My target for them is to show improvements ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar,” he added.
After a shock 1-2 loss against Iraq in the opening game disrupted their Gulf Cup campaign, albeit temporarily, Sanchez has rejuvenated the Qatar side as the shown by their 6-0 thumping of Yemen and then an equally authoritative 4-2 win over UAE.
“I think in all the group games were different. We were upset after the first match, but the players showed good level. In the first game against Iraq, we were not lucky but in the second and third games we showed our true potential, especially in attack and scored many goals. We will continue to work hard. My players have shown great character to bounce back. We are growing in the competition and that’s a good sign. We are now going to rest and recover for the semi-finals,” Sanchez said.
A draw would have been enough against UAE for Qatar to march into the semis, but Sanchez has drilled in a winning mentality into his players, which was on ample display on Monday.
Afif scored twice to put the home side ahead after 28 minutes before Ali Mabkhout pulled one back for the UAE in the 33rd minute. But Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos made it 3-1 for the Asian champions eight minutes after half time. Mabkhout scored again for the UAE, his fifth goal in three games, after 77 minutes but Boualem Khoukhi put the result beyond doubt when he headed Qatar’s fourth in stoppage time.
“It was a good game. The draw was not on our mind. It was our game and the team deserved to win. When you have 40,000 fans supporting the team it gives a good feeling and motivation. It was a nice game for us. We are happy as we could achieve our target to qualify for the semis,” Sanchez said.
“In the first half, we did not play for the draw. We started offensively and played with a winning mentality and scored two goals. In the second half, we scored another two goals, while we did concede two goals but we are happy with our performance,” he added.
UAE’s Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk praised the Qatar side, who he called a ‘strong team’.
“We conceded goals too easily at crucial moments against Qatar. We lost to a strong team, who are the champions of Asia. They have been playing together for a long time. Unfortunately, a few of our players were injured and couldn’t play, we were also a bit unlucky,” Van Marwijk said.
Van Marwijk is now looking forward to the future with utmost optimism. “Our project started months ago with new players, but there is a positive development despite the short preparation period,” said the 67-year-old former Netherlands and Australia manager.
“We have to work hard to achieve further development. Our project started a few months ago with new players, but there have been positive developments and we know what we have to do.”
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