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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Qatar look to topple Afghans again

Felix Sanchez's men have a chance to consolidate their position atop the Group E table when they take on Afghanistan.
Qatar players limber up ahead of a training session. Photo: Fadi Al Assaad

A little over two months ago, Qatar walloped Afghanistan 6-0 to launch their joint Asian Cup 2023/World Cup 2022 qualification race in an emphatic manner. A glance at that result might lead to expectations of another rout when the teams meet again in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in the second leg on Tuesday.

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez (left) and his Afghanistan counterpart Anoush Dastgir. Photo: Fadi Al Assaad

It might not be that straightforward though. Qatar, certainly, are the favourites to win this Group E game but they are likely to encounter a harder group of rivals than the clueless bunch that turned up at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on September 5.

Afghanistan have moved on from that disastrous start, gaining in experience and getting stronger with every game. Anoush Dastgir’s men have beaten Bangladesh 1-0, lost to Oman 0-3 and held India 1-1 in subsequent matches to show they will not be mere pushovers. Qatar sure have more quality at all levels but they will have to be wary of the Afghan grit.

After four rounds, Qatar lead the Group E table with ten points, one ahead of the second-placed Oman. Afghanistan are third on four points and they need a win to keep their hopes alive. Qatar, though, will be in no mood to relent. With the Arabian Gulf Cup in home territory just round the corner, they would certainly want to arrive there in a confident frame of mind.

Qatar have done well so far in the competition. Their only blip was a goalless draw in the second game against India, while wins over Bangladesh and Oman have carried them to the top spot. However, Oman, who play India on Tuesday, are close behind and Qatar will have to stay alert to stay ahead.

“Our aim is keep winning and remain on top of our group,” Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said at the match-eve press conference in Dushanbe.

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez (centre) supervises a training session. Photo: Fadi Al Assaad

They have the firepower to achieve that, with Almoez Ali at the forefront of their charge. The young Duhail SC striker had netted a hat-trick in the first match and he looks good to add more, with Akram Afif — nominated for the AFC Player of the Year prize — ready to don the provider’s role. Captain Hassan Al Haydos too could be a threat for the Afghans, if he can shake off the stupor that had gripped him in the last couple of league games for Al Sadd.

In fact, that weariness was apparent in many of the Al Sadd players in recent matches and that could be the only point of worry for their coach Felix Sanchez. But the Spaniard has plenty of fresh talent to choose from, with Duhail’s Muhammed Muntari and Al Gharafa’s Ahmed Alaaeldin in good form.

A long break will follow Tuesday’s match, with the qualifiers resuming only on March 26 next year. But with the Gulf Cup looming, Qatar have a busy period ahead and a win against the Afghans will be the fuel to keep their fire burning.

Kick-off is at 5.00 pm Qatar time.