With reporting from Heba Fahmy
Qatar’s national football team will take on China tonight at a joint qualifying match for the FIFA 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup.
The game, which the Qatar Football Association has just been opened up to fans for free, will be held at 6:30pm at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd and is part of the second round of the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup.
According to sports buffs, China is the only real challenge standing in Qatar’s way of competing in the international tournament.
The 82nd-ranked Asian country reached the quarter-finals in this year’s Asian Cup, while Qatar crashed out after three consecutive defeats.
Getting to play in Russia in 2018 is an important goal for Qatar, whose national football team has never ranked highly enough to play in a World Cup.
The team will automatically get a chance to participate in 2022 because Qatar is hosting that tournament, but no team since Italy in 1934 has ever not earned its first chance to compete beforehand.
Making it to the finals
Since March, some 38 Asian teams and Australia have been competing for four final spots in the international tournament.
Qatar currently sits at the top of the Group C points table, with nine points from three wins, followed by China, who has seven points from two wins and a draw. The undefeated teams will come head to head for the first time tonight, as they vie for the top spot in their group.
Should they win, Qatar will lead the table with a comfortable five points ahead of its next highest competitor.
According to AFP, winners from each of the eight groups are assured automatic progression to Round 3 – the next stage of qualification. Meanwhile the teams in second place among their groups may qualify as one of the “four best losers” for the final four spots.
The 12 teams from the Asian qualifiers will then be divided into two groups of six at the final group stage, after which the top two in each group will qualify for Russia.
Qatar has so far won all three of its previous matches, scoring 3-2 against Hong Kong and 15-0 against Bhutan last month, and 0-1 against the Maldives in June.
The team still has four more games to go, including another against the Maldives on Oct. 13, and will end their group qualifiers in a final, closing showdown against China next March.
Speaking to reporters, Qatar’s coach Jose Daniel Carreno said that today’s match was “very important” but that a win wouldn’t guarantee Qatar a first-place spot on the Group table.
“There are other remaining matches and we will need to do our best,” he added.
To offset Qatar’s warm temperatures, expected to reach some 35C (95F) tonight, today’s match will be played in an air-conditioned stadium, using cooling technology akin to what was planned for the 2022 World Cup before FIFA moved it to the winter.
The news that the stadium would be cooled to a 24C seemed to take the Chinese team by surprise.
Speaking to reporters late yesterday, Alain Perrin and his team, who spent time in Dubai ahead of tonight’s game to acclimate to the high temperatures said that they were only informed about the cooling technology “20 minutes ago.”
“If we knew about the air conditioning before the game, maybe we would have stayed in China rather than gone to Dubai,” he added.
Captain Zheng Zhi added however, that the reduced temperatures would be good for both teams.
“This is the first time I will play in a match with air-conditioning. The information is a little bit late but it’s good news,” he said.
Free tickets are courtesy of sponsors Qatar National Bank, Qatar Shell and Aamal Exchange, and will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the stadium tonight. There will be separate seating for families, QFA said.
Who’s going? Thoughts?