Al Ain, January 8: Qatar's Spanish coach Felix Sanchez is confident his team can impress at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 as his youthful squad prepare to start the road to their home World Cup with a Group E opener against Lebanon.
Qatar beat Switzerland and drew with Iceland during their preparations for the tournament, which kicks off a 2019 that will also see Sanchez's side take part in the Copa America in Brazil.
Sanchez has made no secret of his intention to use the Asian Cup as a test for an inexperienced group, with his aim to blood talent who can take the country through to their first World Cup.
"This tournament is big for us," Sanchez told a news conference. "This will be an experience for us to prepare for the summer and preparing for 2022.
"In terms of younger players, we are going to play a tournament and play the players that in our point of view that give us the best options to play games.
"The confidence is high, it is important to know that we can compete against stronger teams. At the same time, the players need to be realistic to know that, for us, every game to get results we need to give 100 per cent."
North Korea and Saudi Arabia complete a competitive pool, with Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic in no doubt taking the team to the UAE for the AFC Asian Cup represents a career high.
"It is an enormous honour to be a national team coach of a country, and pride to take the national team to a big competition," he said. "The AFC Asian Cup is the crown of my previous coaching work and awards me for everything I've done so far."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Qatar - Hassan Al-Haydos
The Qatar captain carries the hopes of his country, with the 28-year-old by far the most experienced international player in what is an experimental group. Forward Al Haydos plays his football for Qatar Stars League side Al Sadd, who boast Barcelona icon Xavi among their ranks, and many of his club team-mates are also in Sanchez's squad. Not only is Al Haydos a leader, he is the main goal threat for Qatar.
Lebanon - Hilal El Helwe
One of the few players in the Lebanon squad with experience of European football, versatile attacker El Helwe has played for German clubs Havelse and Hallescher and is now on the books of Cypriot outfit Apollon Smyrnis having been at Wolfsburg for a period. The 24-year-old is an option on either wing and can also operate in a central striking role. He scored twice in Lebanon's qualifying campaign and also found the net in his last club appearance.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- This will be the first encounter at the AFC Asian Cup between Qatar and Lebanon. - Qatar have made it out of the group stages only twice in nine previous appearances at the AFC Asian Cup. Both times, they were knocked out in the quarterfinals (2000, 2011). - Qatar have won only two of their last 20 games at the AFC Asian Cup (D8 L10). They’ve also kept only three clean sheets in those 20 games. - Three of Qatar’s last five goals at the AFC Asian Cup have been scored from direct free-kicks. - This is Lebanon’s second AFC Asian Cup appearance. In 2000, they were knocked out in the group stages after failing to win a game (D2 L1).
(With inputs from OPTA)
Qatar vs Lebanon
Wednesday, January 9,
Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium (Al Ain)
8pm local time (9.30pm IST)
Live on Star Sports 3