Bruno Metsu's Qatar are facing a pivotal four-day period in their drive to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Collecting points from two challenging away matches, firstly against Uzbekistan, and then Bahrain, are fundamental to the success of the tiny Gulf nation's push for a first ever FIFA World Cup finals berth.
Qatar will be eyeing third spot, currently held down by Bahrain who they trail on goal difference, with the third-best in the group to feature in a play-off with the other Asian group, and then a further play-off against New Zealand for a ticket to South Africa 2010. On 28 March Qatar face a Bahrain site desperately unlucky not to beat Australia in their last outing, and four days later they face an underachieving Uzbek side that seem to be slowly moving into gear. The final two matches in June are against regional superpowers Australia and Japan, further underlining the importance of their upcoming contests.
The Qataris shipped seven goals in their most recent meetings against the group's two leaders although that came at a time when Metsu had only just taken the reigns from Uruguayan Jorge Fossati. Since then the Frenchman has had the opportunity to put his imprimatur on the team, and the key to the nation's success will likely be how much difference Metsu has made to a team that was conceding goals at an alarming rate.
If charisma and track record count for anything then Metsu has what it takes to ensure Qatar's FIFA World Cup campaign remains on the rails. Despite departing the United Arab Emirates after their poor start in Group 2, the 55-year-old Frenchman has an impressive track record especially in the Persian Gulf.
Metsu achieved greatness by taking unheralded African nation Senegal to the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, repeating the feat of the mighty Cameroon side of 1990. That they knocked over reigning champions France in the opening match playing a stylish possession brand of football just added to the legend.
Since then Metsu has made the Gulf his home, firstly in the United Arab Emirates where he led Al Ain to the inaugural AFC Asian Champions League title in 2003. He then created his own niche in Qatari football history by taking Al Gharrafa to the league and cup double.
To the current day, and following the disappointment of the heavy defeats suffered against Australia and Japan early in his tenure, Metsu has since lead Qatar to solid albeit unspectacular results. Scoreless draws against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, coupled with a defeat of Yemen saw Qatar reach the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup, where they suffered a narrow loss against eventual champions Oman. A 1-0 win earlier this week over a Kuwait outfit that had defeated Australia a fortnight ago in an AFC Asian Cup qualifier suggests further significant improvement under the guidance Metsu.
The recent positive results will be counterbalanced by injury concerns and Metsu may have to do without the services of key defensive figures in Tashkent like Mustafa Abdulla, Abdulla Koni and Junior Marcone who are all suffering from injuries. In addition youngster Ibrahim Abdulmajed will miss the game due to suspension.
Other regular starters in the national team are struggling for game time at domestic level losing their place to foreign players in the Q-League. Metsu has been forced to look at players based abroad such as Talal Al Baloushi in Saudi Arabia and Hussien Yasser, although the latter has not been playing regularly with his Egyptian club Al Ahly.
This week's match against Kuwait will be followed by a meeting with Syria on Saturday and Metsu hopes that the scheduled warm-up against Syria in Halab will be a good opportunity for his players to adapt to the conditions they can expect to encounter in Tashkent.
Metsu will undoubtedly pin much of his hopes on the form of talismanic striker Sebastian Quintana who has an exceptional goals-per-game record at international level, and has already grabbed five in the current campaign. Others key players that Metsu will likely look to for inspiration are giant Senegalese born goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr and enigmatic forward Khalfan Ibrahim, who was two years ago crowned AFC Asian Player of the Year as an 18-year-old.