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Copa America 2019: Qatar's route to the tournament as a guest team

Varun Nair
ANALYST
Feature
167   //    18 Jun 2019, 19:12 IST

Paraguay v Qatar: Group B - Copa America Brazil 2019
Paraguay v Qatar: Group B - Copa America Brazil 2019

The 46th edition of the world's oldest international tournament is well and truly underway, with yesterday clash between defending champions Chile and guest team Japan ending the first round of fixtures.

The Copa America, which is contested by the 10 nations in South America, usually calls upon guest nations to make up the numbers for the tournament.This year, the CONEMBOL has decided to call upon the 2019 Asian Cup winners Qatar and runners up Japan for the tournament.

Of the invited guests, Japan have brought in a largely inexperienced side, as they are focused on performing well in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. On the other hand, Asian champions Qatar are using this tournament as a means of enhancing their reputation globally, and gathering much-needed experience as they prepare for the 2022 World Cup.

The story of the Qatar national football team has been nothing short of a fairytale. From having their worst ever run in major competitions a couple of years back to being the champions of Asia, Qatar have completely turned their fortunes around.

The journey has taken years and millions of dollars gave been splashed on their Aspire Academy. Moreover, the Qatari FA have scoured the world for top coaches in order to instill a particular playing philosophy. They had to deal with political pressure as well as facing the question of nationality before getting the success they deserved.

Qarar were deemed outsiders in the Asian Cup and the tournament was hosted in a country that had a hostile behavior towards them. The small middle-east country defied the odds and defeated the big names of Asian football such as Iraq, South Korea, host UAE, and finally Japan in their dream run.

The victory effectively helped them get their invitation to the Copa America, as the CONEMBOL invited the winners and runners up of the Asian Cup to be their guests.

Qatar, who will be hosting the 2022 World Cup, see this as the best opportunity to test themselves against the relatively superior South American sides. Coach Felix Sachez called it "a significant step in our journey towards the World Cup" and is hoping that his side gets valuable experience off the Latin Americans as they look to better themselves on the world stage.

In coach Felix Sanchez own words on his side's objectives at the Copa

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"I want the team to perform in a proper and honorable way and demonstrate that they’ve progressed. That’s not just measured in accumulating points and progressing to the next round, but if that happens, it would, of course, of course, be great."

With the first round of matches over, the tournament has seen a fair share of surprises with Colombia thrashing South American powerhouses Argentina, Uruguay and Chile starting their campaigns with 4-0 victories, and pre-tournament favorites and hosts Brazil kicking off their campaign with a victory against Bolivia.

Yet, the result of the tournament so far though has not been any of these rather an insignificant but eye-catching 2-2 draw between Paraguay and guests Qatar.

A nervy start to the match saw Qatar going a goal down in the 4th minute from a penalty. The lead was doubled in the 56th minute by Derlis Gonzalez's strike before the Qatari comeback started.

Almoez Ali scored a wonderful goal from outside the box to in the 68th minute to spark a comeback before Juan Rojas' own drew Qatar level. The last 10 minutes saw a barrage of Qatari attacks, but each failed to find the net and the match eventually ended up in a draw.

The 2022 World Cup hosts were expected to be bottom in a tough group containing 14-time Copa America winners Argentina, 2-time winners Paraguay and Colombia who've won the tournament once. The Asian champions though have rattled the predictions and have now placed themselves as the dark horses to advance from their group.

Qatar will now face Colombia on Wednesday in what could a major test before facing Argentina on Sunday in a match that could decide how the tournament pans out for both the teams.


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