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#Arab Cup 2021
Doha: The FIFA Arab Cup kicks off today, promising weeks of thrilling football games until the final on December 18. After an almost 10-year hiatus, the tournament, formerly called the Arab Cup, was last held in 2012 with Morocco emerging winners. As FIFA takes charge of its first edition as organisers, the tournament will serve as a test run of facilities and infrastructure for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
As the competition doesn't coincide with the regular FIFA international break schedule, established foreign-based players will not participate unless they play in other Arab leagues.
With 16 teams set to take centre stage (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Iraq, Oman, Syria, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Mauritania, and Sudan), the entire Arab world would be tuned-in to the three-weeks football spectacle. The tournament will be hosted across six newly-built magnificent stadiums for the World Cup, including Al Bayt Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium, Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Stadium974 (formerly Ras Abu Aboud Stadium), Education City Stadium, and Al Janoub Stadium.
Host nation Qatar is among the favourites to lift the trophy. The Asian champions head into the tournament on a run of uninspiring results in the European World Cup qualifiers, which they participated in as guests. Al Annabi have participated in a series of competitions as Felix Sanchez builds his team ahead of the World Cup next year.
However, since beating El Salvador in the quarter-final of the Gold Cup in July, Qatar has gone eight matches without a win and have conceded 22 goals in the process, recording just two draws against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.
Sanchez has named almost the same players that lifted the Asian Cup for the FIFA Arab Cup. Nevertheless, against Gulf and Arab competition, Al Annabi, who are in Group A alongside Iraq, Oman, and Bahrain, are tipped to reach the finals with Akram Afif, Hassan Al Haydos, Abdulaziz Hatem, and Abdelkarim Hassan leading the team.
Meanwhile, Morocco, the top-ranked team according to FIFA rankings, has been in scintillating form heading into the tournament. Without the European-based players, former Al Sadd midfielder Houcine Ammouta will lead the Atlas Lions as head coach. The current champions of the Arab Cup in Group C, alongside Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Palestine, have all to play for, with Oualid Azaro spearheading the attack.
Also, Tunisia would fancy their chances in the competition, especially with Manchester United youngster Hannibal Mejbri set to feature for the Carthage Eagles. The 18-year-old French-born playmaker made his Tunisian debut in May this year and would undoubtedly be the star attraction for Tunisia, who would face the UAE, Syria, and minnows Mauritania in Group B.
Meanwhile, heavyweights Algeria and Egypt in Group D should cruise past Lebanon and Sudan before clashing on the final day of group matches. Algeria, the reigning African champions, will have the services of QSL stars Al Sadd's Baghdad Bounedjah and Al Rayyan playmaker Yacine Brahimi. The Desert Warriors have arguably the strongest team on paper and will be expected to bring the fireworks to Doha.
Egypt, on the other hand, would be without talisman Mohammed Salah and co. However, the Pharaohs, coached by legendary Portuguese and former Manchester United assistant coach Carlos Queiroz, boast a formidable side. Regular players like Mohamed El-Shennawy, Ayman Ashraf, Ahmed Fetouh, El-Wensh, Akram Tawfik, and others will make the trip for Egypt.
Activities leading up to the competition opener have begun in full swing across Doha. Al Bayt will stage the Group A encounter between hosts Qatar and Bahrain (kick-off 7:30 PM local time), while Tunisia will take on Mauritania in the early game at 1 PM at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. In Group B, Stadium 974 will host the United Arab Emirates versus Syria match in Group B (kick-off 10 PM).
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