Impressive qualifying performances promise competitive final phase
We highlight players to watch in what are expected to be tight groups
We review the qualifiers and look ahead to a fascinating tournament
The qualifying round for the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021™ concluded this week with Sudan, Oman, Jordan, Mauritania, Lebanon, Palestine and Bahrain securing their places at what looks set to be a hotly contested final phase from 30 November to 18 December.
There was plenty of quality and desire on display during the qualifying games, as participants sent a message to other finalists that they will not be going to Qatar just to make up the numbers. The likes of Sudan, Mauritania, Lebanon and Palestine all showed good attacking potential, while Oman showcased their poise and defensive resolve. For their part, Bahrain are now reaping the benefits of a settled side.
Group A: Hosts Qatar and automatic qualifiers Iraq will be joined by Oman and Bahrain. The former booked their place at the expense of Somalia, while the latter saw off Kuwait. Being an all-Gulf nations section, it is difficult to predict who will go beyond the group stage, particularly after Bahrain’s stellar performance against Kuwait.
Group B: Tunisia’s fortunes seem to have recently become entwined with those of Mauritania, with the pair meeting on numerous occasions over the last couple of years. After sharing a group at the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, they found themselves pitted together once more in the second round of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. It comes as no surprise then to see them sharing a section at the Arab Cup, along with Syria and UAE.
Group C: Automatic qualifiers Morocco and Saudi Arabia have now been joined by Jordan and Palestine. Led by their ace midfielder Oday Dabbagh, Palestine gave a masterclass against Comoros, especially in attack. The group promises to be an exciting and fiercely competitive one, with Palestine and Jordan hungry to progress at the expense of two teams that participated in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Group D: This section is arguably the toughest of all, featuring as it does an Algeria team unbeaten in their last 27 internationals, as well as another Russia 2018 participant in the form of Egypt. Facing the north African duo will be Lebanon, who showed their offensive capabilities against Djibouti and recently made the final round of Asian qualifying for Qatar 2022, and Sudan. Led by coach Hubert Velud, the Falcons of Jeddiane recently qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations after a long absence at the expense of a strong South Africa team.
Mohamad Haidar: The Lebanese striker caught the eye in his side’s victory over Djibouti. Known for his physical strength, goal-scoring abilities and accurate passing, he provided the decisive assist for El-Helwe’s winning goal in qualifying, making him one to watch closely in Qatar.
Oday Dabbagh: Just like Haidar, he is physically imposing and highly skilled on the ball. Along with Tamer Seyam and Laith Kharoub, he helped Palestine make the finals at the expense of Comoros, but all eyes will be on Dabbagh, who is expected to showcase all his talent at the Arab Cup.
Kuwaiti star Bader Al Mutawa has become the most-capped men’s player of all time. He took part in his 185th international against Bahrain, breaking the previous record of Egyptian Ahmed Hassan.
“The match against Comoros was difficult at the beginning, as we didn’t have a good start. But over time we gained confidence, controlled the game and ultimately won. We have a difficult group at the finals, but we’ll take it one game at a time. We have five months to prepare and are determined to get good results and go as far as possible at the tournament." Makram Dabdoub, Palestine coach
"We struggled against Djibouti because we were without many of our overseas-based players, but Lebanon will do well in the finals. As for our group, we’re happy we’ll play against teams from different schools of African football." Jamal Taha, Lebanon coach