Saturday 2 February 2019

How Sanchez moulded his young turks into champions

Qatar’s brilliant young brigade which authored a golden chapter in Continental football history on Friday had patience and precision as the hallmarks of their epochal performance.

Al Annabi's great achievement also had a lot to do with their former FC Barcelona former youth coach Felix Sanchez, who deserves to be complimented as much as any other. His belief in the young players, who grew up and graduated under his care and guidance, 'set a tune' too difficult for any of their rivals to match in the UAE.

It would also be rather out of place to single out any particular player at this moment. But it may be fairly added that if forwards Almoez Ali, Akram Afif, goalkeeper Saad al Sheeb, defenders Abdelkarim Hassan, Pedro Correia or midfielder Abdelaziz Hatim excelled, it was undoubtedly possible due to the inspirational leadership of Hasan al Haydos, masterful planning and the admirable control over the players by the Spanish tactician.

Given the responsibility of shaping the national team worthy of being the FIFA 2022 World Cup hosts, it was quite unfortunate that Sanchez fell short of the nation’s dream last year when Qatar failed to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup.

It may however be recalled that in the third stage of the WC qualifications, Qatar did play well but the defence was not able to withstand the waves of attacks and cracked under pressure, mostly in the closing stages. All the matches were quite tight.

As a result, Qatar, which did exceptionally well in the previous stages, finished as the bottom side in their group. The QFA management and Felix swung into action and were forced to take some hard decisions as the gone-by opportunity meant Qatar were running out of time to make any impact as a top tier team in Asia.

The new experiment of axing some of the ageing players and introducing young blood began to deliver the goods. It was tested during plenty of friendly matches and then as the think tank got satisfied, a squad with a fair sprinkling of young players was cleared.

Qatar’s present 23-man Asian Cup team consists of 14 players who are 25 or under. Even the first eleven against Japan contained six players below 25. The oldest in the Qatar squad is Akram Afif’s elder brother Ali at 30. Rest are not more than 28, including skipper Haydos.

The inclusion of the young players also helped the Qatar defence to a great extent. They had players running back immediately after the loss of possession, tightening the defence and crowding out the rivals. This factor also sharpened Qatar’s counter-attacking abilities, which used to be missing earlier.

The young players gelled well with senior players and their splendid team work was capped with the AFC Cup today. Japan were the first team in the tournament to get a goal against Qatar. On the other hand, Qatar, riding Ali’s record tally of nine strikes, slammed 19 goals and won all their seven matches.

Qatar’s historic triumph has driven many points home. The first, it has indeed created a new centre of football power in Asia. With a strong system of the League and various other tournaments in place, backed by the Aspire Academy, Qatar have eventually silenced all detractors who were thinking about Al Annabi getting a free ride in the 2022 World Cup as hosts.

Now the time leading to the FIFA mega event would be more than exciting and worth waiting for.

(Source: Qatar Tribune)

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