Criticisms of Qatar’s human rights record, its sporting integrity and claims that bribes have been offered to Ecuadorian players to host the opening game of the World Cup will not destabilize the host country, stressed head coach Félix Sánchez.
Qatar’s first World Cup appearance has been marred by controversy off the pitch over questions about results in pre-tournament friendlies and claims about incentives offered to opponents on Sunday to cloud preparations. However, Sánchez, a former Barcelona youth coach who joined Qatar’s Aspire Academy 16 years ago, claimed it was a concerted effort to unsettle the host country and will not succeed.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Sánchez said of the bribery rumors. “The internet is a great tool, but it is also very dangerous. Nobody will be able to destabilize us with these statements. We are not affected at all. We’re really looking forward to playing in a World Cup tomorrow. We’re focused on bringing our A-game and we won’t consider anything else.”
He added: “The best thing you can do as a team or as a footballer is to stay calm and avoid rumors or noise around you. Of course we don’t like it when people criticize our country, but in terms of football we’ve prepared really well.”
The Catalan coach has been less dismissive of the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, where thousands have died building stadiums for Fifa’s flagship event. He said: “The loss of life during working hours is a great tragedy, whether here in Qatar or anywhere else in the world. I just hope this World Cup means we can all work together to improve the conditions for these groups, not just in Qatar but around the world.”
Qatar, ranked 50th in the men’s world rankings, have never qualified for a World Cup, despite being reigning champions of the Asian Cup – beating Japan 3-1 in the 2019 final – and the semi-finals of the Concacaf Gold Cup by invitation 2021 achieved. “If we had qualified this time, we would have qualified,” said captain Hassan al-Haydos, Qatar’s top international with 169 appearances. “This edition of the World Cup is for all Arabs and we have a responsibility for all Arabs. There are four Arab teams taking part and I wish them all the best of luck.”
Sánchez’s side prepared for a group that also includes Senegal and the Netherlands with a four-month training camp earlier this year, followed by a month-long camp in Spain last month.
“All of our players play in our local league so we decided that one way to strengthen the national team is to get them out of their clubs so that they are ready for the national team,” he explained. “It was a huge sacrifice. We spent a long time abroad and away from our families. That shows our commitment.
“Tomorrow is a very important day for us, a historic moment. It will be an extraordinary day like no other. We’ve tried so hard in this country. We are all dedicated to this World Cup. I just hope it will be a great party where we can enjoy football on the pitch and the whole world can enjoy this experience.”