January 13 – Qatar ran rampant over North Korea in Group E winning 6-0 to book a spot in the next round of the Asian Cup. Spanish coach Felix Sanchez had nothing but praise for his star duo Almoez Ali and Akram Afif who engineered the mammoth victory.
Ali scored for times and each time Afif was the provider. That special relationship between the two players dates back to the Qatari national youth teams and over the years they fostered a good understanding. The pair exploded and overwhelmed the North Koreans, who conceded twice in just eleven minutes.
“Moez and Akram have been playing together for the last seven years,” said Qatar coach Sanchez. “They play close to each other so it is normal the understanding they have. They played many, many games. They understand each other. They know when one gets the ball, the movement the other is going to do, so that makes the connection easier, but also the relationship with all the others was very good today. We were very effective. Moez was very effective. That is what we need for a player in his position.”
What should have been a competitive match was reduced to a practice game, but the Qatari exhibition was witnessed by few supporters in the stands as Qatari residents are barred from entering the United Arab Emirates due to the Saudi-led blockade in the region.
“Each game is different,” said Sanchez about the absence of Qatari fans. “We know that we don’t have our supporters here. The players know that this is going to be the scenario. The first game was a different atmosphere than the today. We need to deal with it, but the players when they are the pitch they focus only on what happens on the field.”
Qatar will finish Group E with the geopolitical blockbuster game against Saudi Arabia on Thursday in Abu Dhabi, but Sanchez, whose team delivered on his promise to maintain their own style, is not getting ahead of himself after two consecutive and resounding victories.
“We are planning game by game,” explained Sanchez. “With this result we are qualified for the next round, which is one of our first objectives. Now we have to plan the next one. We know it is going to be very difficult. We are going to try and organise the team and to have a good performance. We are going to try and plan the next game with the right idea to get another good performance.”
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1634712793labto1634712793ofdlr1634712793owedi1634712793sni@o1634712793fni1634712793