Qatar coach Felix ponders Plan B after Olympic failure

Wednesday, 22 January 2020 01:51 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

BANGKOK (Reuters): When the battle for Asia’s berths at the Olympic Games reaches its climax later this week, Felix Sanchez will be sitting in Doha pondering how he puts his Plan B into action for Qatar’s final run towards the 2022 World Cup.

The Qatar coach had earmarked an appearance at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics as an important step along the road to 2022, when the Gulf state will become the first nation from the Middle East to host football’s global showpiece. 

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez Bas - Reuters

For a country that has never appeared at the World Cup and played only once at the Olympics, in 1992, claiming one of Asia’s three tickets for the under-23 tournament in Tokyo was an imperative.

Their hopes, however, failed to survive the opening rounds of the Asian Under-23 Championship, which is currently being played in Thailand.

Saudi Arabia will take on Uzbekistan while South Korea meet Australia in Wednesday’s semi-finals, with the winners claiming a place at the Olympics and the losers playing off for another spot in Tokyo.

Qatar, though, will be on the outside looking in having exited the competition in the opening phase, where they were grouped with Saudi Arabia, Syria and Japan.

“We would like to have been at the Olympics but we knew it was a possibility that we wouldn’t qualify, especially with the group we faced,” said Sanchez.

“We have Asian Cup qualifiers with the first team and we have the Copa America, so we have big events waiting for us and we’re going to keep working.

“We had two different plans, if we qualify or not, so we will keep going on our way.”

Sanchez, who led Qatar to a first Asian Cup triumph last year, remained upbeat and was already looking forward to this year’s Copa America, where his team will play as one of two invited nations.

“We have a long-term project because we have a World Cup in three years and we need to build a team,” the Spaniard said.

“For us, we had two objectives. To try to play at the Olympics, because if you play at this competition you’re going to have another experience against top national teams in the world.

“And the second objective for us was to see our young players and to see how they are doing and how they are able to deal with such a big competition like this one.”

Sanchez said the Thailand experience had been useful in identifying which under-23 players were ready to take the step up to play senior international football.

“It’s good for us to take notes and to have players under consideration to join the national team,” he said.

“Some of them are already in the first squad, but some of the very young players we want to keep them in mind soon to join our national team because it’s in three years’ time and the age they have they’re going to eligible to play.

“So hopefully we’re going to see some of them in the next FIFA windows or the Copa America being in the squad.”