Having put an end to their eight-match winless streak with a victory over Bahrain on Tuesday, Qatar will be hoping they have turned their fortunes around.
It was far from a comfortable victory for the Asian Champions in their FIFA Arab Cup opener at the Al Bayt Stadium, but Felix Sanchez and his men wouldn’t mind one bit.
For, they have gone through tough times recently, playing in the colder climes of Europe against strong teams in the World Cup Qualifiers. A 1-0 win over Bahrain, thanks to Abdulaziz Hatem’s header, in front of a packed crowd came as a relief to the squad.
Now, the Maroons will hope to cash in on the good start as they chase their maiden Arab Cup title – in only their third appearance. A victory today over familiar opponents Oman at the Education City Stadium will put them on course for a quarter-finals berth.
But Sanchez surely knows it won’t be that straightforward.
Qatar have won both their recent matches against Oman in the World Cup qualifiers, but they only just managed to do so. Oman ran their opponents close in both games and were unlucky not to get at least a point earlier this June.
“Oman are tough opponents and we know them well from our recent matches. Oman have a very clear style of playing and we have a plan against them. Like every match, we are targeting three points. We will put our best players who do we think will help us win,” Sanchez told a pre-match press conference yesterday
“There are no favourites, we will play our game and Oman will play their game. Let’s see which team is the one who can take the points. Our last games were very tough games,” the Spaniard added.
Qatar have been on the road since that game in June against Oman – having reached the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July before their travails in Europe. Sanchez suggested fatigue has been a factor for his much-travelled team but was confident his players can play at a good level in a tournament, which is a dry run for the next year’s World Cup.
“We are coming from a very long season and our players were also busy with the domestic season with their clubs, also playing the AFC Champions League matches. It affects the level but we strongly believe that what we need is to face all type of situations. We believe in what we are doing and we have full confidence in our team,” said Sanchez.
With the World Cup taking place on home soil, Sanchez felt every win is a confidence booster ahead of the big event in less than a year. “All the matches we have been playing, the purpose is to improve the level and experience. We need to get used to different styles of football if we want to be ready for the World Cup. This is another competition with other teams and we need to be ready to face all of them,” he added.
Meanwhile, Oman will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing draw against Iraq in their opening game. Iraq salvaged a point at the Al Janoub Stadium with their equaliser coming deep into added time. It was a bitter blow for Oman having gone into that match as favourites.
Oman coach Branko Ivankovic said his team is facing the toughest side in the group but hoped for a positive result.
“Qatari players are very good and they have earned a lot of experience. They also have a good experience of playing at big stage so the match is going to be difficult but we are well prepared,” the former Croatian midfielder said.
Oman’s Harib al-Saadi said his team will be aiming for a victory against the home team. “Qatar match will be the toughest in the group because they are a top side. They are the Asian champions and they will be playing in front of home fans,” the attacking midfielder said.
“But, we have confidence in ourselves and our aim will be to win the match and take three points to make our fans happy. We want a win after a draw against Iraq in the first match. Our target is to reach the quarter-final and tomorrow’s [today] match is very important for us,” he added.
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