You can follow all the action from the 2019 Copa America via beIN CONNECT
Qatar takes a step into the unknown on Sunday evening, as they face off against Paraguay at the Maracanã the epicentre of Brazilian football. It’s the first time ever that an Arabic side has been called up to take part in a Copa America tournament, an honour which is usually handed to fellow nations on the American continent.
However, Qatar in terms of modern international football is not just any team. This trip to the Copa America has been years in the making and is seen by the management and coaching staff at both the QFA and Aspire Zone as a vital staging post on the route to hosting the World Cup in 2022.
The Maroons head into the Copa America in a unique position as Asian Champions, after lifting the crown against the odds in the UAE in February 2019.
For now, inside the camp, the Copa America campaign will be seen as a real yardstick to the abilities of the squad which has come so far under the tutelage of Felix Sanchez. Having gone all the way to Asian Cup glory under the ultimate siege mentality in the UAE, fans will be watching with interest to see just how will this young side manage when the pressure is off in Brazil in what will be a true test of their 2022 aspirations.
One thing is for certain, the Maroons should be tested defensively, and despite only conceding one goal in the Asian Cup, you expect the likes of Messi, Aguero, and Falcao to test Pedro Miguel, Tarek Salman and Bassam Al-Rawi at the back. Whilst the physical element of the South American sides should not be underestimated, and it will be interesting to see how the squad adapts to this.
Qatar has two of the most promising young strikers in the tournament with Almoez Ali (22) and Akram Afif (22) almost certain to start against Paraguay. Both players enjoyed breakout Asian Cup tournaments and whilst Afif continued his form into the Qatar Stars League, scoring 26 league goals and winning the player of the season award. However, Almoez Ali struggled with injuries and barely featured in the tail end of the campaign. The partnership between the two players will be vital if Qatar is to get out of Group B.
Whilst the players face a test in Brazil, just how Felix Sanchez is able to react with the expectations that little bit higher will also be fascinating to watch. Having signed a contract extension until 2022, the Spanish coach who has been in Qatar since 2006 will be well aware that the pressure will be on to continue to deliver credible results on the pitch.
This group of players thrive with odds against them, on paper a quarter-final birth looks out of reach with games against Paraguay, Colombia and Argentina ahead. Still, having stunned Asia, don’t be surprised if Sanchez and the Maroons make waves at a second continental tournament in 2019.
You can follow all the games from the 2019 Copa America via beIN CONNECT.