Qatar out to prove World Cup worth
Doha: Hosting the Asian Cup for the second time in their history, Qatar will find themselves under greater scrutiny than ever before after their shock victory in the race to hold the 2022 World Cup.
While the tournament provides the country with a chance to prove its capacity to organise the sport`s showpiece event, the national team will look to demonstrate that they are worthy of a World Cup-hosting nation.
Critics of the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar pointed to an allegedly feeble football tradition in the country, and their record on the international stage is far from impressive.
They have never qualified for the World Cup and their previous best showing in the Asian Cup was a quarter-final exit at the hands of China in 2000.
In their six other appearances at the Asian football summit -- including one as hosts in 1988 -- they have failed to progress beyond the group phase.
Qatar`s most recent tune-up game saw them held to a 0-0 draw by Iran, but French coach Bruno Metsu said he was not disheartened by the performance.
"I`m not concerned about wasting opportunities," he said.
"Being able to create opportunities against a team like Iran is something we should be proud of.
"It was not a problem with the forwards but we also have to look at the strong performance of the Iranian goalkeeper."
Qatar raise the curtain on the Asian Cup against Uzbekistan on January 7 and Metsu will hope that fortune shines more favourably on his charges than it has in recent months.
The `Annabi` (Maroon) competed in both the Gulf Cup of Nations and the Asian Games football tournament towards the end of 2010, and crashed out of both tournaments in agonising fashion.
At the Gulf Cup in Yemen, Qatar went into their final group game against Saudi Arabia needing victory to reach the knockout phase.
Qatar appeared to be on the brink of the last four after Ibrahim Al-Ghanim gave them the lead with six minutes to play, but an 89th-minute own goal by Hamed Shami Zaher allowed the Saudis to snatch a 1-1 draw that took them through at Qatar`s expense.
As defending champions, Qatar`s under-23 side topped their Asian Games group ahead of Kuwait, India and Singapore, but misfortune befell them in the last 16.
A 1-0 loss to Uzbekistan saw Qatar eliminated, but a shocking extra-time miss by 18-year-old striker Fahad Khalfan -- who toed the ball against the post from a yard out -- meant their exit was accompanied by an unwanted dose of worldwide humiliation.
Recent results may be chequered, but in Metsu Qatar possess a coach who is something of an authority on making a splash at major tournaments.
The 56-year-old Frenchman was at the helm when Senegal stunned holders France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup.
With the eyes of a dubious footballing world on Qatar, the Asian Cup presents a perfect opportunity for Metsu to engineer another ground-breaking upset.