FIFA.com : Groundwork paying dividends for Qatar
Given Qatar’s record in the AFC Asian U-19 Championship, a competition in which they had only reached the final once – on their debut back in 1980 – their 2014 tournament win in Myanmar came as a surprise to many. That unexpected success did not come about by chance, however. In recent years the Qatari Football Association and the Aspire Sports Academy, which provides the national team with a steady stream of talented youngsters, have put a lot of hard work into making Qatar a force in Asian football.
The man behind the U-19 side’s Asian triumph was their Spanish coach Felix Sanchez, who has been in the post since 2013. Talking to FIFA.com, he revealed the secrets of their success.
“There are several key factors involved and there’s more to it than just training,” he explained. “There’s been a plan in place for the last eight years at Aspire, the national team and at club level. We also put a lot of preparation in for each competition and these results have been made possible by the work of a lot of people.”
The Qataris began their victorious Asian U-19 Championship campaign in style, topping Group D ahead of Korea DPR, Iraq and Oman. They then knocked out China PR in the quarter-finals to secure a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, which will be their third appearance in the world finals: in 1981 they reached the final, but fell in the group phase on home soil in 1995.
After disposing of the Chinese, the Qataris then needed extra time to beat hosts Myanmar 3-2 in the semis. The continental trophy was theirs when they downed Korea DPR 1-0 in the final.
Reflecting on a demanding tournament, Sanchez said: “Every match posed us a different challenge and a fresh set of problems. Before each game we focused a lot on the need for the players to concentrate.”
Sanchez, who works in conjunction with Aspire, had words of praise for the role the academy plays in his team’s preparations: “Aspire is where everything starts because every single one of our players has trained there for the last six, seven or eight years. They’ve all developed their games there and their mental strength, which explains why they’re so mature now.”
Moreover, 13 of the team Sanchez took to Myanmar play their club football in Europe, something he sees as an important step forward for the Qatari game: “A decision was made to send them to Europe so they could improve as players. It’s a great experience for them, no doubt about it.”
As for the future, the former Barcelona youth coach hopes to see his charges kick on and break into the senior national team: “I’d really like to see some of them in action at the 2022 World Cup and even the 2018 finals.”
Identifying New Zealand 2015 as an important part of that process, the 39-year-old coach added: “Getting as much experience as they can at this level will help them when it comes to taking part in the World Cup with the senior team. We hope the competitions to come will be useful to them in the short, medium and long term.”
Laying the foundation
The Aspire Academy has played a fundamental part in the development of the team that won the Asian U-19 title. Its director Roberto Olabe, a compatriot of Sanchez’s, spoke toFIFA.com about the work it is doing to ensure Qatar’s young players can shine in New Zealand later this year.
“The academy asked the Qatari FA for permission to oversee the development of the youth teams, from the U-13s through to the U-19s. The clubs here all agreed to release their players so they could train at the academy from Sunday through to Thursday, provided that they are available to play for them at weekends.
“Given that all the players in the national teams are taking part in Aspire’s development programme, training them has not been a difficult task. It’s essential that the FA and the clubs support Aspire in rolling out its national team programme.”
A former Real Sociedad player, Olabe had this to say about the standard of the players and Qatari grassroots football: “The academy operates according to a three-point plan that has been specifically designed with young players in mind. The work performed at grassroots level helps coaches develop their skill sets and also benefits Qatari football as a whole.”
To date, the Qatari FA has held three FIFA Grassroots programme sessions as part of its drive to promote the sport among young people and help the country in its preparations to host the FIFA World Cup™ in 2022.
Pointing to the importance of these sessions, held in 2010, 2012 and 2014, Olabe said: “They’re crucial to the development of young players and to introducing them to the culture of the game, both of which are aims of the development plan put in place by the Qatari FA and FIFA in these last few years.
“It’s very important for Qatar that FIFA is working to implement a development programme in Doha and encourage people to take up the game in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.”