Qatar’s national football team will have to get past China, the Maldives, Bhutan and Hong Kong to make it to the final qualifying rounds for the 2018 World Cup, FIFA announced during a draw earlier this week.
According to sports buffs, the only real challenge for 99th-ranked Qatar will be 82nd-ranked China, which reached the quarter-finals in this year’s Asian Cup. The Gulf state on the other hand 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 the World Cup.
The team will automatically get a chance to participate in 2022 because Qatar is hosting that tournament, but in recent history, no team has ever not earned its first chance to compete beforehand.
According to Dr. Ahmed Al Mohannadi, editor-in-chief of local sports publication Doha Stadium Plus, Qatar faces a tricky road ahead during the upcoming qualifying round:
“Qatar will’ve to beat China and also prevent any slip-up if they’re to top the group. If we miss on this, the likelihood of qualifying as one of the best four runners-up looks difficult because there’re more than one strong team in other groups.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are in Group A, Australia and Jordan in B, Iran and Oman in D, Japan and Syria in E, and Uzbekistan and Bahrain in H, clearly throwing up stiff challenge for the four best runners-up slots.”
While 2014 was a good year for Qatar, whose team clinched the Gulf Cup against Saudi Arabia, this year’s Asian Cup performance left much to be desired, he added.
Nonetheless, China’s coach said this week that the only contender he was worried about in the group is Qatar.
FIFA quotes Alain Perrin, who formerly coached in Qatar, as saying:
“They (Qatar) are a side with which I don’t want to be drawn against. I am familiar with their football. I think the Qataris are the strongest among the second seeds.”
Some 40 countries and eight groups will compete in this round until March 2016. The winners of each group and the four best second-placed teams will head to the third and qualifying round for Asia, which will begin late next year.
Of the hopefuls, four or five Asian nations will qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.