Qatar have been blowing hot and cold in Asia’s fourth and final qualification round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, with a win, a draw and a defeat, leaving them level on four points with favourites Iran in Group B.
Though the Maroon-clad side lie two points adrift of pool leaders Korea Republic, having played one game more, their performances under Brazilian coach Paulo Autuori have been encouraging, especially when you consider that they are the only side left in the Asian qualifiers without a single overseas-based player in their ranks.
That state of affairs has evidently posed no problem to the 55-year-old tactician, who took charge of the Qataris back in February. Autuori made an instant impact, overseeing a 2-2 draw with Iran in Tehran, a result that took his new side into the fourth round, where they kicked off with a 1-0 win over Lebanon in Beirut.
A heavy 4-1 defeat followed at home to Korea Republic, though Qatar quickly steadied the ship with another draw in Tehran, this time goalless, revealing the potential of Autuori’s home-based squad and the shrewdness of his selections.
Months on from his appointment, the Brazilian coach, who won the FIFA Club World Cup in 2005 with Sao Paulo, sat down with FIFA.com to assess the Qataris' qualifications chances. “I’ve got complete confidence in the players that are in the national side right now,” he said. “All I need to do now is harness the experience and the confidence they’ve picked up lately and use it in our favour.
“Since my arrival as coach I’ve tried hard not to worry about individual players,” he continued. “I’m trying to put together a squad that can achieve the things expected of it. We don’t depend on any one player in particular and I’ve more than enough options to make up for any absences.”
Brazil here we come
Qatar’s best international performances to date were the fourth-place finishes they earned at the Italy 1991 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup and their run to the final at Australia 1981, where Germany beat them in the decider.
In contrast, however, the seniors have never reached the FIFA World Cup finals, despite having taken part in every qualifying competition since Argentina 1978. The closest they have ever come to reaching the big stage was in the qualifiers for Italy 1990, when they finished a single point behind United Arab Emirates, who advanced as the second of the AFC’s representatives, along with Korea Republic.
On the plus side, several members of the current side have major world finals experience under their belts, with Khalfan Al Khalfan, Yusef Ali, Jaralla Al Marri, Ali Yahya and Mohammed Al Yazidi having all represented Qatar at U-17 level at Peru 2005.
“We’re not the only ones who are trying to reach this competition for the first time,” said Autuori, his sights firmly set on Brazil 2014. “It’s a big ask but I have faith in my players and their abilities. We’re going to stick together.”
The Qataris have five more matches to negotiate in their bid for a coveted top-two finish in Group A. The next two, at home to Uzbekistan and Lebanon in October and November respectively, will be crucial to their qualifying hopes.
“The match with Uzbekistan will not be easy,” said the Brazilian, focusing on the side’s next test. “After our fine performance in Tehran, though, we’ve every reason to be optimistic ahead of that game and the following one against the Lebanese in Doha. “If we want to qualify, then we have to build on the progress we have shown in our last two matches with Iran, beat Uzbekistan and Lebanon, and we’ll take a big step towards Brazil.”
If Autuori can lead a side devoid of foreign-based stars all the way to the world finals, then it really would be something to shout about.