AFC Under-23 Championships Qatar 2016
As the build up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup continues, Qatar is remaining at the forefront of the Middle Eastern football scene as they are set to host yet another competition for the region.
Whilst on the surface it does not sound like a significant tournament to stage, the top 3 finishers qualify for the Olympic tournament in Rio, Brazil later in the summer.
Qatar go into the tournament as underdogs perhaps, needing to overcome Iran, Syria and China in the group-stages. However, in October last year Qatar secured a narrow 1-0 win over the Chinese, although they also lost 1-0 to Iran last January.
Of course, with this being a youth tournament with a capped age then Qatar would have to rely on their younger players.
History is not on their side either, as Qatar have not qualified for the Olympics football since 1992 in Barcelona, where they managed to reach the quarter-finals.
Although, Qatar will be happy with the under-23 age restriction, having lifted the under-19 Asian Football Confederation trophy only 2 years ago, meaning that the players will still be able to represent their country.
Another factor which will work in Qatar’s favour is as that the competition is not FIFA regulated, so domestic clubs are not forced to let their players leave to join the competition which takes place later this month.
This could mean that big talent will miss out, such as Heung Min-Son of Tottenham who was left out the Under-23 squad as the north London outfit would’ve been unhappy to see their £22 million signing leave at such a crucial part of the season. Directly affecting Qatar is that Iran will miss 3 key players as European clubs, as FC Rostov of Russia and AZ Alkmaar refuse to let their players go. Whilst the likes of Japan, who have been in the Olympics football since 1996, and South Korea being favourites to progress, only one space could be left for the Asian region to hand out; surely Qatar will fancy their chances despite it being their first time in the competition.
Although Qatar are likely to have the support of the 300,000 nationals behind them as they will look to sell out the 12,000 to 15,000 seated stadiums which will be used, as they hope to create history and qualify for the Olympics for the first time.
Written by Matt Davis.