• Qatar will probably be the most prepared team going in to the World Cup, says Canada coach John Herdman
Qatar will most likely play their last two friendlies against tough opponents in the next five days, before they embark on a historic World Cup appearance at home in two months’ time.
The Asian champions will face Canada today at 8pm at the Viola Park in Vienna, before taking on Chile on Tuesday. These two matches will give coach Felix Sanchez an idea of his 26-member squad to select for the World Cup.
It’s been four months since Sanchez and his 30-member probable squad set sail to Europe to prepare for their World Cup debut. After a physical training camp in Marbella, Spain, Qatar are camped right now in Austria, with the players missing the Qatar Stars league matches back home.
The Maroons have played few behind-the-door friendly matches against clubs and second string national teams as their preparations have been kept well-guarded secret. Finally, they will emerge from four months in near-lockdown as they take fellow World Cup qualifiers Canada.
Having spent tens of billions of dollars preparing for the first World Cup in an Arab nation, Qatar is desperate to see the national side get past the first round where they are grouped with Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador.
But they lost 3-0 to a Croatia under-23 team behind closed doors on Tuesday. And while public games in Vienna against Canada and Chile are only friendlies, they will still be seen as a key test of how much steel Sanchez has put into the side.
Post the friendlies, Sanchez and the players will briefly return to Qatar in early October and will hold an open training session before returning to Spain for more isolation before the World Cup starts.
Today, Canada will offer Qatar their toughest test in recent times in the first meeting between the two sides. The Canucks, ranked five places above Qatar at 43, topped the CONCACAF qualifiers to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Coach John Herdman has called these upcoming friendlies (Canada also play Uruguay on Sunday) a measuring stick for his side, who will be facing teams outside of their region for the first time in over four years.
“Being our first trip outside of Concacaf and first games against non-Concacaf nations since the journey started back in 2018, we will learn a lot in these moments,” said Herdman. “Both opponents present different types of tests and with the quality of Uruguay we will see and feel first-hand the intensity of that next level opponent.”
Herdman is expecting a well-drilled opponent in the World Cup host. “Qatar will probably be the most prepared team going in to the World Cup,” said Herdman. “The investment that’s gone into them is pretty unique — being able to use all of the opportunities that they have as a country to centralise their players and pretty much play like a club team.”
Herdman noted Qatar played club sides in Italy’s Lazio and Fiorentina during the summer and is coming off a game against the Croatian under-23 team this week. “They’re a team that is well organised, very disciplined, a good footballing team. And you can tell they know each other inside-out. So this is going to be a real challenge for Canada.”
In the absence of the injured Atiba Hutchinson, David Hoilett will captain Canada. The 39-year-old Hutchinson, Canada’s all-time men’s caps leader with 97 senior appearances, has been sidelined by a bone bruise suffered in pre-season with Turkey’s Besiktas. The 32-year-old Hoilett takes over the captain’s armband in his 48th appearance for Canada. “He’ll lead the team out,” Herdman said yesterday. “He’s in wonderful form at his club at Reading near the top of the Championship (England’s second-tier).”
Canada’s squad will be spearheaded by Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies and Lille’s Jonathan David.
Two players –Montreal’s centre back Joel Waterman and Blackpool FC forward Theo Corbeanu – have been called up for the first time as the rest of the squad features returning players from the CONCACAF qualifiers. The Canadians’ meteoric rise in over the past couple of years has not gone unnoticed by the big clubs around Europe, as numerous players chosen by Herdman ply their trade with some of those prominent teams, many of whom are playing significant roles domestically.