Asian Cup 2015: Controversial Qatar keen to prove themselves
Qatar have come under much scrutiny of late, following FIFA’s decision to award the Middle East nation hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup.
The Maroon squad, however, are just eager to prove their own worth in the Asian Cup, regardless of their country’s controversial position as a platform for future football competitions.
Ambitious Qatar are involved in a race to produce a team capable of competing on the world stage in 2022, but the focus in the present should belong to their current crop of representatives.
With a population of around 2.17m, the Gulf coast team does not have a large talent pool to draw from, unlike many of its upcoming competitors.
This does not mean the peninsula nation will be content with being also-rans, as The Maroon aim to enhance their international reputation.
Aside from a perhaps unlikely qualification for Russia 2018, the Asian Cup stage may be Qatar’s best chance of winning neutral, or sceptic, hearts ahead of 2022.
Djamel Belmadi’s men have already taken vital steps to proving their merit and set foot in Australia as the newly crowned Gulf Cup of Nations 2014 champions.
This recent silverware success breaks what was, until now, a pattern of failure overseas. Qatar’s previous tournament victories had all taken place on home soil, until this triumph on neighbour Saudi Arabia’s turf.
Belmadi’s boys will be looking to transfer their winning form to the Asian Cup, a competition where their best-ever finish has, so far, been the quarter-finals.
Qatar keeper Qasem Burhan was named goalie of the tournament in the Gulf Cup, and the Senegal-born stopper will be required to put in a repeat performance if his adopted country are to shut out their Group C opponents.
The Maroon cannot rely on simply stopping the opposition, however. Their top scorer in the Gulf Cup was Bahrain-born midfielder Ali Assadalla, who notably bagged a brace in the semi-finals to earn a tally of two.
At just 21 years of age, intriguing Assadalla could once again be a game-changer in Australia.
Wingman Boualem Khoukji, an expat of Algerian descent, is also one of Qatar’s most highly-rated stars, famed for his speed down the flanks and set piece savvy.
Al Sadd forward Hassan Al Haidous was the only player able to be deployed as an out-and-out striker who grabbed a goal in the Gulf Cup, so the Maroon still have much to work on up top.
Qatar’s ability to provide threat from all over the pitch, and grind out results, certainly bodes well for a tough group stage, though, so the Maroon could yet put a cat amongst the pigeons on their quest for global recognition.