Can Qatar cope with pressure, expectations at World Cup 2022?

The Maroons hope to make it past the group stage of the global football tournament where they will be making their debut.

Akram Afif of Qatar
Afif is the star of the team and the 2019 Asian footballer of the year after his one goal, 10 assists led Qatar to the Asian trophy [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Previous World Cup appearances: Debutants
Player to watch: Akram Afif
Ranking: 50
Fixtures: Ecuador (November 20), Senegal (November 25), Netherlands (November 29)

Qatar is making its first appearance at the global football tournament.

The Middle Eastern country of 2.8 million people comprised of mostly expatriates qualified automatically as the host nation. The reigning Asian champions are ranked 50 in the world and are the first Arab nation to host the competition.

In their run to lifting the Asian trophy, the country’s first big football title, the Maroons conceded just one goal and beat favourites and four-time champions Japan 3-1 in the final.

Leading the team from the dugout on home soil is Spaniard Felix Sanchez – a former Barcelona youth coach.

The Maroons have been busy preparing for the tournament taking part in several competitions as they hope to make it past the group stage.

Last year, Qatar beat Egypt on penalties to finish third in the FIFA Arab cup hosted in the Qatari capital, Doha.

In the semi-final, the Maroons lost 2-1 to eventual winners – Algeria’s Desert Warriors – in a pulsating match at Thumama stadium, conceding a goal in the 17th minute of stoppage time.

AFC Asian Cup Final - Japan v Qatar
The Maroons conceded just one goal and beat favourites and four-time champions Japan 3-1 in the 2019 Asian cup final [Suhaib Salem/Reuters]

In 2019, Qatar was invited to take part in the Copa America where they were placed in Group B with Argentina – who finished third – Colombia and Paraguay. The Maroons were eliminated in the first round after finishing bottom of their group with a single point after drawing 2-2 with Paraguay in their opening match.

The squad is composed of players picked from the local league – Qatar Stars League. The Maroons are in Group A with Ecuador (ranked 44), Senegal (ranked 18) and the Netherlands (ranked 8).

As the host nation, the Maroons will kick off the show with their match against the South Americans at the 60,000-seater Al Bayt stadium.

The star of the team is the tricky left-winger Akram Afif. The 25-year-old is the 2019 Asian footballer of the year after his one goal and 10 assists led Qatar to the continental trophy.

Afif was previously on the books of La Liga side Villarreal and has also played KAS Eupen in the Belgian league. Afif’s older brother, Ali, is also part of the squad.

The tournament could be the last World Cup for Qatar’s most capped player and the current team captain Hassan al-Haydos who will turn 32 before the final on December 18.

Al-Haydos, who plays for Al-Sadd, is also fourth on the country’s goal-scorer’s list.

Source: Al Jazeera