Qatar to take on Lebanon in AFC Asian Cup opener

Qatar to take on Lebanon in AFC Asian Cup opener

QLNews
By QLNews

With only a few hours to go for the opening match of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, excitement is at an all-time high.

When hosts Qatar take on Lebanon in the competition’s opening match at the iconic 88,000-seater Lusail Stadium, at least some people may feel a sense of déjà vu at the high-profile nature of the game.

Qatar, being surprise undefeated champions of the 2019 tournament in the UAE, will have everything to play for in front of a home crowd.

Qatar, who clinched the 2019 title by beating the mighty Japanese 3-1 in the final, are ready to hit the ground running against Lebanon in Group A, said their coach ‘Tintin’ Marquez Lopez, who replaced Carlos Queiroz in December.

“We’ve undergone extensive preparations, and certainly, it isn’t an easy task especially with the limited time available,” said Lopez.

“I commenced training in the final week of December, but despite the short duration, I’m familiar with the players and their title ambitions. Working under pressure is something I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, and it doesn’t faze me much,” he added.

Qatar defeated Lebanon 2-0 at the same stage in UAE 2019 and the 62-year-old tactician said he will instruct his players to adopt an aggressive approach against Lebanon. 

“My primary philosophy revolves around an attacking style, a principle I honed during my time at Qatar Stars League side Al Wakrah. We must be bold, create chances and secure victories while maintaining that essential equilibrium,” he said.

“Lebanon’s Hassan Maatouk is a key player, and they’ve a strong selection with 10 other skilled players supporting him. We won’t dwell on their weaknesses. We’ve great respect for the Lebanese team,” he added.

Lebanon will face a daunting task against Qatar, who they have not beaten in seven previous encounters (six losses and one draw). However, head coach Miodrag Radulovic said his side are well prepared.

“In football, progress takes time, it isn’t an overnight achievement. I know many of the players in this group and they’re a combination of experience and youth. The results of the recent friendlies have indicated that we’re on the right track. We’re expecting a high-quality game against Qatar,” he said.

Tajikistan and an off-form China are the other two teams in Group A.

Japan has one of the strongest squads in the tournament, with an almost entirely European-based squad at their disposal. But they have a surprising lack of international experience in front of goal, with their three keepers having just five senior caps between them.

Though South Korea haven’t won the Asian Cup in more than sixty years, their head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is hopeful that could change this time. South Korea looks in good form, with five wins in a row, 19 goals scored and none conceded.

Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae, PSG attacker Lee Kang-in and Son Heung-min makes the Korean side quite formidable.

Iran, under new head coach Amir Ghalenoei, comes into the Asian Cup with 11 wins in a row.

However, Porto’s Mehdi Taremi and Feyenoord’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh have been struggling for goals this season. Team Melli also features one of the oldest squads in the AFC Asian Cup.

Saudi Arabia comes with a team filled with players entirely from the Saudi domestic league. But with so many global superstars featuring in the Saudi Pro League, one can expect coach Roberto Mancini’s players to fire on all cylinders.

Australia, who won the Asian Cup at home in 2015 and reached the final in 2011, will have just nine players returning from the squad that played in Qatar 2022. Around 14 players will be appearing in their first major international competition.

Australia are in Group B which also features Uzbekistan, Syria and India.

Who do you think will win the opening match between Qatar and Lebanon?

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