Tournament hosts Qatar are appearing at their maiden World Cup as 12 years of preparation finally come to fruition.
Manager Felix Sanchez is not just rooting for his players to enjoy playing host, though. South Africa remain the only nation to fail to reach the knockout stages of their home tournament and former Barcelona youth coach Sanchez has no intention of following suit.
After taking the job in 2017, the Spaniard put two years of groundwork into leading Qatar to the Asian Cup title for the first time in 2019, ousting Iraq and Australia, beating hosts the UAE in the semi-finals before stunning Japan in the final.
Rather than bask in the glory, Sanchez’s sights were already set on 2022. “We must not think we’ve crossed the finish line,” he said. “This is just another step on our journey. Another step towards being ready for the World Cup.”
Barring late selection shocks, Qatar’s hopes will rest on a large contingent of Al Sadd players, the majority of whom were working under Barcelona legend, and now manager, Xavi until November last year.
All eyes will be on Akram Afif – one of two current squad members, along with powerful full-back Abdelkarim Hassan, to be named Asian player of the year – to lead the attacking charge.
Having spent time with Sevilla, Villarreal and Sporting Gijon before returning to the Qatar Stars League with Al Sadd, the fleet-footed winger is already motoring towards 100 caps at age 26.
With a solid, compact approach, energy in abundance and a raft of defenders capable of contributing at both ends of the pitch, Qatar will be looking to catch Group A cold. They have been waiting since 2010 and they are more than ready to rumble.
Manager: Felix Sanchez
Star player: Akram Afif
One to watch: Yusuf Abdurisag
World Cup finals appeared in: None
Fixtures: Nov 20 - Qatar v Ecuador; Nov 25 - Qatar v Senegal; Nov 29 - Netherlands v Qatar