(Reuters) - Qatar have what it takes to register their best Asian Cup performance when the continental showpiece kicks off in the United Arab Emirates this week, captain Hassan Al-Haydos has said.
The tiny, wealthy Arab state will make their 10th appearance in the Asian Cup and will be hoping to improve on their quarter-final appearances of 2000 and 2011.
Comprised largely of players from Al-Duhail and 2018 AFC Champions League semi-finalists Al Sadd, the Maroons are in Group E alongside Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and North Korea — the only side below them in the FIFA rankings.
“I think we can go beyond the quarter-finals in the UAE,” Al-Haydos told Qatar’s Gulf Times daily. “We have very talented players and an excellent coach who has been with the team for one-and-a-half years.
“On top of that we have a very supportive national federation who are in sync with the team’s requirements.”
The confidence of Felix Sanchez’s men of advancing deep into the tournament has also been boosted by two impressive displays in international friendlies last November when they beat Switzerland 1-0 and five days later earned a 2-2 draw against 2016 European quarter-finalists Iceland.
“There is no pressure on us (because of raised expectations). In fact the recent results have only motivated us,” the Al Sadd striker said.
“We are satisfied with our preparations. We hope to continue with our strong performance in the Asian Cup. We feel comfortable, we enjoy the game.”
Qatar have also won two more recent warmup matches against Jordan and Kyrgyzstan before losing narrowly to Algeria and Carlos Queiroz-coached Iran, the top side in the continent.
The Jan. 5-Feb. 1 tournament will be a platform for Qatar to impress before they host the 2022 World Cup, their first appearance at soccer’s biggest event.
“It’s a very important year for us as we are competing in the Asian Cup as well as the Copa America,” added Al-Haydos.
“Then we have the World Cup coming up in four years. These tournaments are part of our preparations for the FIFA World Cup.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Greg Stutchbury