Qatar Football AssociationNational Teams | First Team
31.01.2019 7:02 in :

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: As the countdown to their hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup continues, Qatar’s qualification for the nation’s first-ever AFC Asian Cup final highlights the progress being made on the field by the country’s football programme.

Felix Sanchez’s side booked their spot in Friday’s decider against four-time champions Japan with an empathic 4-0 victory over hosts the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday that sets up a fascinating clash at the Zayed Sports City Stadium.

But while the focus will be on the meeting between the two nations later this week, Qatar’s progress to the final highlights the advances being made in the lead-up to their hosting of the FIFA World Cup in just under four years’ time.

“I think Qatar is very well organised in terms of sport,” said Sanchez. “We have the Aspire Academy, which is one of the main keys to building this national team.

“There’s the performance centre where we develop players and this works together with the QFA, with the Aspire Academy and with the clubs, because all the nation is following the same target.

“Of course, the result we can see in this tournament, which gives us the proof that with hard work and good organisation we can achieve good results.”

Sanchez has first-hand knowledge of the work that has been done since Qatar was granted the rights to host the FIFA World Cup in late 2010.

The Spaniard joined the Aspire Academy as a coach in 2006 and has worked with the core of the current national side, leading them to the 2014 AFC U19 Championship before moving on to take charge of the country’s team at the 2016 AFC U23 Championship.

Qatar reached the semi-finals of that tournament but narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, but Sanchez remained in place to lead the country to another semi-final finish at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China.

He was then promoted to the head coach’s position with the senior national team to maintain his close links with a group of players that includes Almoez Ali, Akram Afif and Abdelkarim Hassan, who should all be vital to the country’s performance in 2022.

“I’m very happy for the country because they’re working very hard to have a cooperative team, but for these players they are amazing in the way they are working and the effort they are putting to be here and to have this performance,” said Sanchez of his team’s progress to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final. “I’m very proud of them and all the staff.

“We have been working for a long time, more than three weeks. We are working very hard and we’re very proud and very happy knowing that we need to start to prepare for the last game, which is the most important.”

Standing between Qatar and a first AFC Asian Cup title is a Japan side that also boasts a number of impressive young talents as Hajime Moriyasu rebuilds the Samurai Blue following their performance at the FIFA World Cup in Russia last summer.

And Sanchez knows only too well that his team will have to raise their game again if they want to take the trophy back to Doha.

“Japan is a top team,” said Sanchez. “They win all of the games against different types of teams and (against Islamic Republic of Iran) they showed how good they are and they played an outstanding game against another great team.

“So we know we will have to play an excellent game if we are going to compete against them. We have arrived at this point, the players are confident and we are going to try to arrive well to have a good performance and to have the opportunity to challenge the game and to have our chances.”