Normally when writing national team previews, I ask an expert from the country Korea is facing a couple questions over Twitter and I try to incorporate them in my post. Sometimes, we’ve even gone to interviewing a national team coach. This time around, for Korea’s crucial qualifier against Qatar (Thursday morning 7am EST/8pm KST), we interviewed Qatar contributor to Ahdaaf Ahmed Hashim. If you don’t know what Ahdaaf is, check it out – they’re THE go-to site for Middle Eastern football news. Without further ado, here’s his answers to my questions about Qatar.
First off, how has Qatar’s qualifying campaign gone so far?
It’s been disastrous. There was a lot of hope going into the fourth round as the team had reached there on the back of an impressive showing in the previous round. But as those defeats to Iran and Uzbekistan showed, Qatar just wasn’t up to the level many had made them out to be. Losing 0-2 at the Azadi hurt especially because Qatar had managed to keep their own in front of almost 100,000 people and did not concede until the 90th minute. A late loss in focus by the keeper Lecomte led to two costly errors and two goals. The Lekhwiya keeper was replaced by Al-Rayyan’s Omar Barry in the next game against Uzbekistan but a simiar scenario played out in Doha. Barry’s positioning was questionable as Qatar conceded an 85th minute goal.
Sure, Qatar had their chances in both games but as many fans contend, they looked short of passion and spirit. They linked this to the burgeoning number of naturalized players on the team. It is not clear why they think this happened at this particular stage while things went smoothly in the previous matches. Anyway, the hue and cry that followed the two defeats led to the sacking of coach Daniel Carreno.
Obviously, the big news with Qatar is how they’ve recently sacked former manager Djamel Belmadi. Your new boss, Jorge Fossati, though known in Asian football circles, isn’t really known in Korean football circles. What does he bring to Qatar?
Jorge Fossati has a history of success in Qatar, both with the national team and two of its biggest clubs, Al-Sadd and Al-Rayyan. With Al-Sadd, he first won a historic domestic quadruple in 2007 before taking over the national team. He led Qatar to the fourth round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Fossati had Qatar on top of their group with four points from two games when he was forced to leave the position due to health complications.
He later returned to Al-Sadd and this time, took them to their second Asian title in 2011. Korean fans may remember him as the coach of the Al-Sadd team from the infamous match against Suwon in the semifinal fiasco which saw players and staff clash. Al-Sadd faced another Korean side, Jeonbuk, in the final and beat them on penalties after drawing 2-2, to win the trophy.
In 2015, Fossati took over at promoted Al-Rayyan and won the league title at the first time asking. His CV in Qatar is therefore very impressive and he also knows most of the players up close. Among the 23 players he named in the squad for the matches against Korea and Syria, Fossati has worked with 13 of them in his previous coaching stints.
His experience and knowledge of the game in Qatar, the strengths and weaknesses of the players etc should naturally mean that he is capable of bringing out the best in them.
In the first match under Fossati, Qatar beat a very respectable Serbian side 3-0. Is this an outlier result? What’s changed?
The result against Serbia looks like a great one but it was an unofficial friendly played behind closed doors. From what we can find out, it seems that the Serbian team was made up of U23 players from the Serbian league. The team list showed none of the regular starters for Serbia, which must have been because it wasn’t a FIFA matchday.
Anyway, Sebastian Soria scored a hattrick for Qatar and finally seems to be back in goalscoring form for the national team after a long hiatus. Whether he can do it on the big stage again is another story.
Fossati didn’t go with Lecomte or Barry in goal and instead played Al-Sadd keeper Saad Al-Sheeb. He also brought in players from the Al-Rayyan team, his last coaching position.
Many Korean fans won’t be familiar with Qatar’s senior team, but our U23 teams did go head-to-head in the AFC U23 Championship semis, where Korea came out winners. Any of that youth side make the senior team?
The Qatar team that finished fourth in the AFCU23 was a highly talented side that mostly played together at every youth level. Among those players who now appear for the senior team is Akram Afif, the winger who is now with Sporting Gijon and recently became the first player from the GCC region to start a game in La Liga. He is one to watch out for. The squad also includes other former U23 players such as playmaker Ali Asad, left-back Abdelkarim Hassan, right-back Musab Kheder and centre-back Ahmed Yasser.
Maybe a starting lineup prediction and couple key players to look out for?
Predicted starting XI: Al-Sheeb – Abdelkarim Hassan, Ahmed Yasser, Khoukhi Boualem, Mohammed Kasola – Luiz Mairton, Karim Boudiaf – Akram Afif, Rodrigo Tabata, Hassan Al-Haydos – Sebastian Soria
Players to look out for: Hassan Al-Haydos – Captain of the team and one of the most exciting homegrown talents in recent years. A speedy player with the confidence to take on opponents, send in accurate crosses and even go for goal after cutting in from the right.
Others: Rodrigo Tabata, Khoukhi Boualem, Akram Afif
In broad terms, what are Qatar’s strengths and weaknesses?
Defensively, Qatar have been seen as vulnerable and particularly prone to losing steam and becoming unfocussed towards the end of games.
Constant change in the back four and the goalkeepers has, I think, contributed to a lack of stability and therefore a lack of understanding.
One of Qatar’s prominent strengths will be their speed on the wings and the potency that can come from it. What they need is to combine that with clinical finishing in front of goal.
What is the expectation amongst Qatari fans for this match?
The realistic fans may not hope for much and I think not many will be shocked if they come off with another defeat. But as we can see from the shape of the group, yet another setback at this stage will almost kill off Qatar’s hopes of qualifiying so there will be an expectation that the players step up and show responsibility. The call from the fans is for the players to show passion for the national team. How much of it we can expect from a team dominated by naturalized players is to be seen. In any case, it is very crucial for Qatar to qualify for 2018 and not make their 2022 appearance a debut.
Ultimately, I think that Qatar would do well to get a point out of this. Following it up with a win over Syria would be a considered a fine start for Fossati in his second stint as Qatar coach.