Qatar will host the FIFA Arab Cup later this year, with the draw for the tournament taking place at Katara Opera House on Tuesday, 27 April at 21:00 Doha time.
Twenty-three national teams will compete for the trophy, with matches set to be played at six FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 venues. The tournament is regarded as a final rehearsal for the first World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world, which will take place from 21 November to 18 December 2022.
Ahead of the draw, qatar2022.qa caught up with a number of Qatar Legacy Ambassadors to discuss the tournament and its significance ahead of the World Cup.
Wael Gomaa, regarded as one of Africa’s best defenders of all time, said, “Firstly, the Arab Cup will provide the Qatar 2022 organizers with an important final test of stadiums and all the related infrastructure that will play a key role in hosting a successful World Cup.
“Secondly, Arab teams from Africa can use the tournament as a welcome opportunity to test their squads for the African Cup of Nations set to take place in early 2022, whereas those Asian countries which end up qualifying for the World Cup can use the tournament to prepare themselves for the big stage,” Gomaa added.
“Thirdly, there are the social implications of the Arab Cup, in that the tournament will unite fans and teams from across the Arab region, something that no other football competition has been able to do at this scale in the recent past.”
Khalid Salman, who famously scored a hat-trick for Qatar against Brazil at the 1981 FIFA World Youth Championship, believes the Arab Cup will provide some highly anticipated clashes.
“We will have current and former continental champions mixing it up with up-and-coming teams – it will be an exciting tournament and one that shows teams from the Arab region in the best possible light,” said Salman.
“And to play the tournament at World Cup stadiums while benefiting from World Cup infrastructure, including the transport network, training sites and top-class accommodation, will make it even more special.”
For Ibrahim Khalfan, another Qatari football legend, the FIFA Arab Cup will be the culmination of an important year for the next World Cup hosts.
“The Qatar national team is in the midst of what will be a very formative few months in its preparations. Playing in the European qualifiers, along with their debut in the Gold Cup, will provide key experiences for their growth as a squad,” said Khalfan.
“The Arab Cup will provide yet another important experience before the World Cup and comes as part of a comprehensive plan put in place by the Qatar Football Association to prepare our team for the big stage.”
Qatar will enter the FIFA Arab Cup as the champions of Asia after lifting the continental title in 2019 following an unbeaten run to the trophy, which included victories against Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Korea Republic and Japan.
Adel Khamis, the first Qatari player to play abroad when he was signed by a Kuwaiti club in the late Nineties, believes entering the tournament as continental champions will give the players a boost.
“Although many of the participating nations in the Arab Cup will boast players from the world’s best clubs, and will come into the tournament wanting to make a statement prior to the World Cup, I am certain that the Qatari team will prove to be a difficult opponent,” said Khamis.
Despite the popularity of the game in the Arab region, the 23 participating countries have largely failed to qualify past the second round at the FIFA World Cup™, with Morocco being the first country to make it out of the group stage at Mexico 86. Since then, only Saudi Arabia and Algeria have made it to the second round, in 1994 and 2014 respectively.
Mubarak Mustafa, however, sees that the quality of Arab teams has been gradually improving in recent years, pointing to the fact that four teams from the region qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ in Russia. In turn, the former captain of the Qatar national team is looking forward to the Arab Cup as a platform to showcase some of the region’s talent to the rest of the world.
“I’m certain that Arab teams will have their say at the World Cup. In the past, one could see the anxiety that Arab teams felt when facing football giants like Argentina and Brazil. More recently, this has changed. Teams from the region are now playing with much more confidence. This is as a result of many Arab players plying their craft in top European leagues,” said Mustafa.
“The Arab Cup, therefore will be a celebration of this new, exciting style of play, and will give the world an idea of what teams from the region are capable of achieving on the world stage,” he added.
The FIFA Arab Cup 2021™ draw will be held at 21:00 Doha time on Tuesday, 27 April. The draw will be streamed live on @roadto2022 and @roadto2022en.
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2021