• Qatar will play against Ecuador on November 21 at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
Coach Felix Sanchez said Qatar will aim to be competitive in the FIFA World Cup, after the hosts were drawn to play Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands in Group A yesterday.
Qatar will make their World Cup at home and they will undoubtedly be under huge pressure as they take the field for the first game against Ecuador on November 21 at the 60,000 -capacity Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor. Their biggest challenge, however, will come against African champions Senegal and three-time World Cup runners-up the Netherlands.
Sanchez, who led Qatar to its maiden Asian title in 2019, felt Qatar could have been drawn in any group against any team and it would still have been tough for them. “To be honest any group, any team will be very, very tough for us,” Sanchez said after the draw ceremony at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center yesterday.
“You have to see the FIFA ranking or the history of each of the teams that are here. We are proud to be here today in the draw ceremony. We now know our opponents, so now we’re going to start preparing for these three games in our best way and try to be as competitive as we can,” the Spaniard added.
The last time Qatar faced Ecuador in a friendly on October 12, 2018 at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, they won a thriller 4-3. It was just a year since Sanchez had taken charge of Qatar. Twelve players who took part in that match are key members of the current Qatar squad. However, Ecuador have been in terrific form lately, having finished fourth in the hugely competitive South American qualifiers to seal a place for the World Cup.
Sanchez said Qatar team will try to put their best foot forward in front of the home fans. “We have played Ecuador before. So we’re going to try to prepare and to show our best level in front of our people. I think that’s the most important. The first game in a tournament is always the most important because it gives you the feeling how the team will perform during the competition,” Sanchez said. Provided Qatar get off to a decent start, their passage to the knockout stage could pivot on their final game of the group. And that will come against the power of the Netherlands on November 29.
Meanwhile, Ecuador will be playing at their fourth World Cup. After missing out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, they were indebted to Coach Gustavo Alfaro for taking them back to the global stage.
“I am excited we are playing against Qatar in the opening match. I am happy Ecuador will be competing at the biggest stage of football after missing out from the last World Cup in Russia” Alfaro said yesterday.
My past experience in coaching Saudi Arabia has helped understand GCC football better, which will be useful for our World Cup preparations. Qatar has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure it’s ready to host the World Cup, whether in terms of hotels or the infrastructure in general,” added the Argentine, who picked Belgium, Brazil, The Netherlands and France as the top contenders for the title.
Meanwhile, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said the Dutch had received a kinder World Cup draw than their last appearance in the finals in 2014. In 2014, the Dutch won a group containing Chile, Spain and Australia and went on to reach the semi-finals.
“It is a better draw than 2014, but that means nothing,” the Dutch coach told the NOS public broadcaster. “We will still prepare ourselves well.”
Van Gaal had predicted before the draw that the Dutch would face the host nation. “It was a gamble, but of course it’s nice when a gamble becomes true,” he said. “I haven’t been to Qatar or Senegal that often... so I don’t know these countries that well. But we have very good scouts that will look into things. They will analyse our opponents and until now they have done fantastic work,” the former Manchester United manager added.
“In 2014 we ended up in the toughest group, with world champions Spain, Chile, which was the number three in South America at the time, and Australia’s fighting team. The duel with Australia (a 3-2 Dutch win) ended up being our most difficult match. Compared to then, this draw is more favourable, even if this time we have to play against the champions of Africa,” Van Gaal said.
PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil