Qatar have point to prove as they open Asian Cup finals and title defense in the Lusail

By Samindra Kunti in Doha

January 12 – Hosts and defending champions Qatar take on Lebanon in the curtain raiser of the Asian Cup on Friday with a point to prove on home soil after a disastrous World Cup campaign and the shock dismissal of Carlos Queiroz last month. Captain Hassan Al Haydos believes the team needs to send a message to the fans. 

Tintin Marquez stepped in to take over from the veteran Portuguese coach Quieroz and there is little doubt that the managerial change so close to the finals altered the preparations of the team.

Qatar picked up a handsome 3-0 win against Cambodia on the last day of the year but slumped to a 2-1 defeat against Jordan in their final warm-up match before Friday’s big kick-off against the Lebanese at Lusail Stadium.

“We are playing the Asian Cup as title holders and in our own home, so we have to perform and show to the fans that we mean business,” said Al Haydos.

“I think the 2019 generation raised our levels and ambitions. We are always required to win in any game and championship we participate in. But challenges are part of football and I hope we can deal with this stress and pressure in a positive manner.”

The showpiece match will once again throw the Maroons into the spotlight and they will be hoping for a far better showing than those deflating 90 minutes against Ecuador in the opening match of the World Cup last year in Al Bayt.

Lebanon represents modest opposition, but Qatar are no longer the force from four years ago when they claimed their maiden continental title and were on an upward trajectory before it all fell apart.

“For us as players, we need the fans more than ever from the first minute to the end of the game, and I hope that we can get as many points as possible to get to the next round,” said Haydos.

“It is a relatively good group where all the teams have very similar levels and tomorrow we are starting a new challenge for us.”

Qatar held a lengthy training camp to prepare for the finals, but even so, Marquez, previously with local club Al Wakrah, had little opportunity to mould the team to his image. He however downplayed the lack of time and does not see it as an excuse.

“My experience in Qatar helps me convey my ideas to the players. I know the players’ performance, and how they react and act on the pitch which has made it easier. The players have a lot of influence, a lot of ambition and a lot of will which helps us a lot to go forward. We have undergone extensive preparation and certainly, it’s not an easy task, especially with the limited time available.”

At least history is on Qatar’s side against Lebanon. They are unbeaten in their last seven matches against the lowest-ranked team in the competition.

The visitors have a new commander as well – Midrog Radulovic. He replaced Croatian Nikola Jurcevic and is in his second stint with Lebanon.

“In football, progress takes time, it’s not an overnight achievement,” said Radulovic.

“I know many of the players in this group, a combination of experience and youth. The results of the recent friendlies have indicated that we are on the right track. We are expecting a high-quality game against Qatar.”

At the 2019 Asian Cup, the two teams faced off in their opening match and the Qataris prevailed 2-0. That was the perfect start to a perfect competition for the Maroons and they will be hoping for more of the same on Friday, and a return to the Lusail for the final in a month’s time.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1713325903labto1713325903ofdlr1713325903owedi1713325903sni@i1713325903tnuk.1713325903ardni1713325903mas1713325903


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