(MENAFN- The Peninsula)
#Arab Cup 2021
Almost three years ago, Qatar produced a fine performance to outwit Lebanon in their opening match of the Asian Cup 2019. That 2-0 hard fought victory set the tone for Al Annabi, who won six more consecutive games to clinch the historic title.
Qatar and their head coach Felix Sanchez know the importance of the first game of a major tournament well as they open their FIFA Arab Cup campaign against Bahrain in a Group A tie, today.
The opening match will also mark the inauguration of the Al Bayt Stadium – a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 venue – with a full house of 60,000 spectators set to attend the game, making stakes even higher for the home side.
The Asian champions despite a dip in their recent performance will start as one of the favourites to win the historic tournament but Bahrain are expected to give them a tough test in today's game. The Reds, who have not lost a game against Al Annabi since 2004, have won Gulf Cup in 2019 in Qatar – a few months after clinching the West Asian Football Federation Championship.
Sanchez is hoping his team will return to winning ways, ending their eight-match winless streak following the European Qualifiers, where Qatar featured as a guest side to prepare for the World Cup.
“We want to make good start in the tournament. The opening matches are always difficult, which makes this match an important one. We have prepared well,” Sanchez told a pre-match press conference yesterday.
“The Arab Cup is an important preparation for the team ahead of the World Cup. We have the resolve to win this tournament and we will give everything [to win the title].
The Qatar coach admitted Bahrain will be a strong opposition and will give them a stern test in the opener.
“We aspire to win the title, but we have to take one step at a time. We respect the Bahrain team, they are a strong side and have won the Gulf Cup before in Doha and has some quality players in its ranks,” the Spaniard said before hoping his team will bounce back from recent performance.
“We will give our best to make our fans proud and we are looking forward to fans to support us during the tournament,” he said.
Speaking about the group, which also includes Oman and four-time champions Iraq, Sanchez said:“We have played many times against all three group teams. It is not going to be easy, history tells us that. We will have to play each game like the final to get points in order to reach the next stage. We have to play very good three games.”
Meanwhile, Qatar captain Hasan Al Haydos said the national team is excited and ready to give its best.
“This [tournament] is something very important for us. It makes us proud to play this tournament and the objective is to win the title. We are concentrating on every team and our first focus is Bahrain as we hope to start with a win,” he told reporters yesterday.
The captain added the players are eager to make fans happy after recent defeats with a good show in the Arab Cup.
Meanwhile, Bahrain coach Helio Sousa termed Qatar a tough side in front of their home fans.
“Qatar team will be difficult to play at home and in front of their fans. They have been preparing for the World Cup for more than six years, they have participated in the biggest events – the Gold Cup, Copa America and the UEFA qualifiers,” the Portuguese coach told reporters yesterday.
“They are an experienced team and have been exposed to playing different style of football from all continents. These made them improve as a team. But tomorrow [today] the score will be 0-0 at kick-off and we're ready to beat them,” he added.
He added:“The tournament is an opportunity to see the team develop and grow by playing against tough opponents. This is the first time that we are going to play Qatar, while we played against other teams. We will take advantage of this competition to continue to grow as a team.”
Bahrain captain Sayed Mohammed said his team is eyeing to start the tournament on a winning note.
“We need this kind of championships so we face strong teams. We are well prepared and we are ready for the kick off,” the goalkeeper said.
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