With only 16 months to go until Qatar hosts the FIFA World Cup, the country’s national team is fully focused on the tournament. This month, Qatar will take part in the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time – the latest step on its learning curve ahead of next year’s showpiece event.

Led by Spanish coach Felix Sanchez, the Maroons have come a long way in recent years. They will head into the World Cup as continental champions after lifting the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 2019.

Since then, Qatar has soaked up a stack of international experience. The team competed in the 2019 Copa America and has recently faced a number of European teams after being invited to take part in UEFA’s FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign as a guest nation.

Qatar’s next challenge will be facing the best teams from North, Central America and the Caribbean in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is being held in the United States from 10 July to 1 August. Qatar were invited to take part in the tournament after the Qatar Football Association signed a strategic partnership with CONCACAF.

Qatar have been drawn in a group containing Grenada, Honduras and Panama. Their first match – against FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualifiers Panama – will take place in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, 14 July (kick-off 2 AM Doha time).

Speaking during a training camp at Aspire Zone, coach Sanchez and defender Abdelkarim Hassan discussed the significance of the tournament while looking ahead to Qatar 2022.

“During the build-up to the World Cup, we are going to be playing a lot of matches to prepare us for the big tournament,” said Hassan. “The Gold Cup will see us play against teams with different playing styles to our own – it will be a very valuable experience.”

Sanchez said competing in the Gold Cup would test the squad.

“It’s a very important tournament for us,” said Sanchez. “Playing official competitions in a different environment to Asia presents us with a much-needed test to see how well we can compete against different teams in the World Cup.”

During the last World Cup, hosts Russia made it all the way to the quarter-finals before bowing out on penalties against eventual finalists Croatia. Hassan is hoping Qatar can emulate the Russians’ success in 2022.

“It’s difficult to predict how far we will go in the World Cup,” said Hassan. “In the past, big teams have exited at the group stage, while some smaller nations have made it to the latter stages. We are hoping to surprise everyone at the World Cup. Nothing is impossible.”

Sanchez hopes the Gold Cup will continue Qatar’s development as a serious contender on the world stage. He also discussed his aspirations for 2022.

“When the World Cup is over, I want people to say that Qatar are a good team, with quality players that play proper football. I want them to see that Qatar can compete against anyone,” said Sanchez.

There are now under 500 days to go until the World Cup, with Qatar set to kick off the tournament at the stunning Al Bayt Stadium on 21 November 2022.

Source: Gulf Times