Cup offers Qatar chance to make headlines on the field

Qatar’s success in persuading FIFA to grant them the World Cup has not translated to success on the field

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Off the field, Qatar have been the talk of world football for the past few years, upsetting some of the game’s traditional giants by winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

On the pitch, it has been a very different story with the tiny oil and gas-rich state hardly rating a mention. Qatar’s success in persuading FIFA to grant them the World Cup has not translated to success on the field.

This month’s Asian Cup in Australia offers the Arab nation a rare chance to generate some positive headlines. Although they are regarded among the outsiders to win the tournament, all the recent signs are encouraging.

In 2014, Qatar played 18 internationals, winning nine times, drawing eight and losing just once.

They beat Asian Cup hosts Australia 1-0 in a friendly during October, then a month later, they won the Gulf Cup of Nations, which featured six of the 16 countries that have qualified for the Jan. 9-31 Asian Cup.

Two of those teams, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates, are in Qatar’s group at the Asian Cup, along with three-time champions Iran, raising hopes they can make it to the knockout stage.

Of the nine times Qatar have previously qualified for the Asian Cup since 1980, they have failed to make it past the group stage on seven occasions.

They reached the quarter-finals in 2000 and in 2011, the latter as hosts, but are yet to make the semi-finals.

“We have big ambitions and this competition is a new step for us in a long-term project,” said Dejamel Belmadi, who took over as Qatar’s head coach in March.

“All the signs point to Japan, Australia and Korea Republic as favorites, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a chance.

“Every competition is unique and we’ll give everything to be up to the challenge.”

Belmadi, a former Algerian international, is banking on a combination of youth and naturalized African-born players.

Of the 23 players he picked for the tournament, just one, the captain Meshaal Abdullah is in his 30s.

Congolese-born Mohammad Abdullah and Ghana-born Mohammad Montari were both included even though neither has been capped by Qatar before.

They will join Boualem Khoukhi, who moved to Qatar from Algeria in 2009 and is suddenly looming as one of the team’s trump cards.

The 24-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final, to help Qatar win last year’s West Asian championship then netted Qatar’s winner in the Gulf Cup final against Saudi Arabia.

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