LUGANO, Switzerland — Xherdan Shaqiri was shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders in the players’ tunnel of Lugano’s ageing Stadio Cornaredo, trying to clarify how Switzerland, sitting in eighth place in the FIFA World Rating, had misplaced 1-Zero to Qatar.
“It’s tough while you play a staff of players you do not know,” the Liverpool ahead instructed ESPN FC. “In these type of video games, you possibly can solely lose.
“We watched them on video, however we did not know their players in any respect, so it was tough. Nonetheless, they deserved to win.”
For all of the focus — and there was loads — on Qatar’s suitability as the host nation of the 2022 World Cup, the highlight has largely averted specializing in the power, or in any other case, of the tiny Gulf nation’s soccer staff.
Felix Sanchez Bas’ players are a gaggle of unknowns. The squad for the sport in Lugano — towards a facet that reached the spherical of 16 at this yr’s World Cup finals — and subsequent week’s pleasant towards Iceland in Eupen, Belgium, was made up totally of players primarily based in Qatar.
FIFA ranks them at 96th in the world, sitting between the Faroe Islands and India, but subsequent Wednesday (Nov. 21) marks the starting of the four-year countdown to Qatar 2022. Once they kick off the most controversial World Cup in historical past, they are going to not be in a position to depend on the aspect of shock to upset extra established nations, as they did in Lugano.
Just one earlier host nation, South Africa, has failed to progress past the group stage of their World Cup, however Bafana Bafana no less than went out with a bang in 2010 by eliminating France with a 2-1 victory in Bloemfontein. This yr’s hosts, Russia, shocked the world by avoiding that destiny and even eliminating Spain en route to the quarterfinals.
Qatar, having by no means beforehand certified for a World Cup, are aiming not solely to win a sport however make it into the knockout section, so the stress is rising on the staff to develop into aggressive.
“The players had been celebrating in dressing room [in Lugano] as a result of we’ve got crushed a staff of players who play in the Champions League and main leagues in Europe,” coach Sanchez Bas instructed ESPN FC. “It shows we’re taking part in in the proper manner.
“The aim of the sport was to see the place we’re and whether or not we are able to compete with the greatest groups in the world.”
As Shaqiri acknowledged, Qatar’s players are not at all family names. So who’re the Qatari players?
Akram Afif, whose second-half objective won the sport for Qatar, is clearly a expertise. The 21-year-old winger is on mortgage at Doha-based Al Sadd from Villarreal, having frolicked with Sevilla as a teen.
He has tempo and trickery and will have scored two different objectives towards the Swiss.
Qatar captain Hassan Khalid Al Haidos, additionally with Al Sadd, is the No. 10 who bears a putting resemblance to Manchester Metropolis’s Riyad Mahrez when it comes to stature and elegance of play.
Proper-back Pedro Miguel Carvalho deus Correia — often called Ro-Ro — is a naturalised Portuguese, whereas ahead Almoez Ali is Sudan-born, however the remainder of Sanchez Bas’s squad are Qatar born-and-raised.
Though Al Haidos and Afif are not imposing figures, the remainder of the Qatar players are extra sturdy, with the defenders not missing muscle or tenacity. Tactically, they play Four-Three-Three, a system that seems to go well with the players.
“This can be a group of players that I’ve identified for a very long time and, though we’ve got limitations — we’re a really small nation with 500,000 individuals — with laborious work, you may get some outcomes,” Sanchez Bas stated. “The FIFA rating is clear, however as soon as in the subject, you compete.
“However whereas we like to move the ball, towards a staff like Switzerland, you have got to settle for that you’ve to play one other manner typically and that is good for our improvement.”
Lugano is a small metropolis in southern Switzerland, a spot so sleepy you possibly can hear your footsteps whereas strolling round Lake Lugano.
If you’re trying to fly below the radar, it’s nearly as good a spot as any to achieve this and Qatar stored a low profile earlier than and after the sport.
There was no high-powered delegation from the Qatar Soccer Affiliation to accompany Sanchez Bas’s staff, no grandstanding about the 2022 World Cup.
And with solely Four,170 turning up to watch the sport, it appeared as if the Swiss public had been not inclined to pull again the curtain to see what sort of staff will carry the stress of World Cup hosts in 4 years’ time.
Sanchez Bas, a former youth coach at Barcelona, has labored in Qatar since 2006, beginning out at the internationally famend Aspire Academy earlier than progressing via the ranks of the nation’s under-age groups till taking cost of the seniors in 2017.
He’s Qatar’s eighth coach in 9 years and laughed when requested whether or not he’ll nonetheless be round in 4 years’ time — “You can’t say, however hopefully. It might be a dream.”
Qatar may have little worldwide pedigree past three Arabian Gulf Cup titles — Kuwait lead the manner with 10 — however in 2018, they’ve now performed seven video games and misplaced as soon as, to Uzbekistan in October.
This yr, they’ve crushed Iraq, China, Palestine, Ecuador and now the Swiss, however the climb will get harder in 2019, with Qatar contesting the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates in January earlier than collaborating in subsequent summer time’s Copa America in Brazil as a visitor nation.
“We’ve a younger technology and we’re aiming to do higher in the Asian Cup after which go to the Copa America and construct in direction of the World Cup,” captain Al Haidos instructed ESPN FC.
“We’ve the ambition to compete with the powerhouses of Asia, however we’ve got the skill and the high quality to compete with them. We’re bettering over time.
“The stress is all the time there with the World Cup in 2022, however with time the players will get the expertise to deal with that.”
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With stars like Wesley Sneijder (Al Gharafa), Xavi and Gabi (each Al Sadd) taking part in in the Qatar Stars League, top-level worldwide expertise is starting to drip-feed into the home sport.
“Xavi has had his affect on the staff, he has improved us,” Al Haidos stated. “We’ve discovered from him so much.”
Essentially the most beneficial classes will come from publicity to high-level opposition, nevertheless, and Sanchez Bas stated the Copa America will be a useful take a look at on the street to the World Cup.
“That may be an necessary match, so there’ll be numerous stress,” he stated. “However these are the steps we should take to be prepared in 2022.
“The Asian Cup is a really powerful match for us due to robust groups like Australia, Japan, South Korea and Iran, who compete nicely in the World Cup.
“However as soon as we end this, then it’s the Copa America and it’s a large motivation for the players to play towards a few of the high nationwide groups in the world comparable to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
“We’re No. 96 in the rankings and that’s for a cause,” Sanchez Bas continued, “so we’ve got to maintain making the step up and be used to taking part in the greatest in the world if we’re to be prepared for 2022.”
It’s a lengthy street forward, however Lugano confirmed that Qatar are heading the proper route, on the pitch no less than.