Asian champions Qatar shift focus as World Cup qualifiers resume In this Week

Asian champions Qatar shift focus as World Cup qualifiers resume

Qatar, after securing stability in the coaching staff, is set to continue their pursuit of a historic first World Cup qualification against Kuwait on Thursday. This comes amid alterations on the field, just six weeks following their triumphant retention of the Asian Cup on home turf.

Marquez Lopez, who led Qatar‘s successful defence of their continental title last month, was handed a contract until 2026 last month having taken the reins in December on an interim basis from Carlos Queiroz.

But while a familiar face will sit on the bench at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, there will be a new man wearing the armband after Hassan Al-Haydos announced his retirement from the international scene.

The 33-year-old captained the team to their Asian Cup successes in 2019 and last month, as well as in their disappointing showing as 2022 World Cup hosts, and leaves a creative void at the heart of the team.

Lopes has inherited a squad that sits on six points at the top of Group A after wins in their opening matches against Afghanistan and India, with the top two finishers in each group advancing to the next phase of the preliminaries.

Eight Asian nations are guaranteed to qualify for the finals with a ninth progressing to an intercontinental playoff.

Qatar hosted the 2022 World Cup but have never qualified for the finals, with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia claiming the Asian berths at the most recent edition.

On Thursday, the Japanese face the first of two meetings with North Korea, playing in Tokyo before a tricky trip to Pyongyang on Tuesday for Hajime Moriyasu’s side in their first internationals since underperforming at the Asian Cup.

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