Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos expects the UAE to pose a tough challenge in the FIFA Arab Cup quarter-finals on Friday.
The hosts cruised into the last eight with a third successive win against Iraq on Monday and now the Asian champions await a wounded UAE, who will be looking to settle the scores.
The last time these two sides met in 2019, Qatar thrashed the UAE 4-0 on their home soil en route to winning their maiden Asian Cup title. Al-Haydos, who captained the side to continental victory two years back, says UAE are a different team to the one they faced at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
“The next match will not be at the same level as the one we played with the UAE in 2019. This Emirates team is a new side and the match is going to be difficult. We hope to be up to the mark and get a good result and qualify for the semi-finals,” the Al Sadd star said.
Qatar topped the Group A but were unconvincing in their wins over Bahrain and Oman. In the final group game against Iraq at the Al Bayt Stadium on Monday, Qatar coach Felix Sanchez made nine changes to his starting line-up with his side already assured of a quarter-final place.
The hosts struggled to find the back of the net against Iraq as the score remained 0-0 at half-time. That changed in the second half as substitutes Akram Afif, Almoez Ali and al-Haydos all came on to score late fine goals to send the hosts through with an impressive, unblemished record.
“Hard luck to the Iraqi team and the Iraqi crowd,” said al-Haydos. “We proved that we are a strong team despite the participation of players who did not play in the first two matches. We played the match well and scored late goals to win. Iraq were desperate for goals and that allowed us space to attack resulting in these three goals,” he added.
Monday’s game against Iraq gave Sanchez a peep into Qatar’s strength in depth – which was not many – as the Maroons gear up for their maiden World Cup at home in a year’s time.
Though the Qatar’s second string functioned and competed well throughout, they lacked the sparkle and penetration normally provided by their regulars Afif and Almoez. “The match was not easy for us because we were already qualified but the players showed commitment and discipline. Their performance was great and now we have to recover and think about our next match,” Sanchez said.
“I am proud of the players and I also want to thank fans for supporting us in the match,” the head coach added.
The Spaniard also praised the trio of Almoez, Afif and al-Haydos for their late goals against Iraq. “It's great to come from outside the field and play and score to help the team. There are many players in our team who are key players and that's what the group does,” the coach said.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Bashar Resan said a dip in the team's performance in the second half resulted in the defeat. “We were not bad in the first half as we created several chances to score while not giving a strong Qatari team any opportunity to score,” the midfielder said.
“We suffered a physical decline in the second half like in our previous two matches against Oman and Bahrain. We gave too much space to Qatar late in the match,” said Resan, who plays for Qatar SC.
“We apologise to our fans for failing to advance as they were hoping for us to qualify.”
Iraq, the most decorated team in the Arab Cup, remained winless in the tournament and finished third in the group, ahead of bottom-placed Bahrain.