DOHA, Qatar, AP — Given the level of focus on the Qatari regime, its attitudes toward human rights, immigrant workers, the LGBTQ community and beer, the World Cup host’s soccer team has flown under the radar. .
Qatar opens the tournament against Ecuador on Sunday, but even preparation for that match has been overshadowed by Friday’s announcement that beer sales will be banned within the stadium grounds.
The World Cup is a source of immense national pride for Qatar as it seeks to raise its profile on the world stage and move towards modernization. But what about the team?
Qatar has never appeared in a World Cup before and faces a huge challenge just to get out of Group A, which also includes Senegal and the Netherlands. South Africa in 2010 is the only host nation to fail to make it past the group stage, so to avoid sharing that distinction would be a success in itself.
Sunday may be Qatar’s best hope for a win against a team from Ecuador that is just five places up at No. 44 in the FIFA rankings.
That continental title was devised by the coach Félix Sánchez, who has held the position since 2017 and before that he was in charge of the under-19 team. The 46-year-old Spaniard learned the trade from him at the famous Barcelona academy and his impact has been remarkable, with Asian Cup success being his highlight.
But the World Cup is another level entirely.
“We try to maintain normality,” Sánchez told the Spanish sports daily Marca. “We already know that there is that pressure, and we don’t have to add to it. We have our routine. We try to isolate ourselves from the noise around us and focus on getting our best performance.
“It is difficult because then you go to the field and you see 60,000 people. It is the first game of a World Cup and there is so much expectation that it is hard, but that experience will help them”.
Ecuador will be hoping to crash the party, and has been talked about as a possible surprise package. But the team is heading to the World Cup due to doubts over whether it would be allowed to compete after claiming it fielded an ineligible player during qualifying.
Chile and Peru argued that defender Byron Castillo was actually Colombian and played illegally in qualifying matches. That claim was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Ecuador kept its place in the World Cup, but will have three points deducted before the start of qualifying for the 2026 competition due to the use of false information about Castillo’s birthday and birthplace in its procedures to grant him a passport .
Castillo was then left out of coach Gustavo Alfaro’s 26-man squad for Qatar.
Doha, EFE.- The Qatar coach, the Spanish Félix Sánchez, admitted this Saturday that his team does not start as favorites in the opening match of the World Cup in which they are hosts, but promised to “try to be competitive” and put “the illusion of the whole country” to achieve “something positive”.
“We are aware of who we are, how we are, who we are going to face. But we are going to try to be as competitive as possible against rivals of a high level.
It is a great challenge for us but we have the illusion to the fullest”, assured the coach one day before the start of the competition.
Sánchez was full of praise for Ecuador, which he considered “the surprise” of the South American qualification, “the most difficult in the world”, according to the Spanish coach, because of the rivals it has and “for the solvency with which they achieved it”.
“It is a young team, a new generation, they have worked hard, they are idols in their country and they arrive with high expectations. We know that they will be a difficult opponent, due to their individualities, with players who are in Europe, and also due to history, since it is not their first World Cup. That makes them play the role of favorites, ”he stressed.
The underdog on paper
The Qatar coach acknowledged that they are on paper the weakest team in a group that also includes the Netherlands and Senegal and admitted that “possibly the other rivals already have the three points against us.” He highlighted “the illusion” that the country in which he has resided since 2006 lives and that will be forged as of this Sunday.