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AFC Asian Cup

Qatar's young stars thriving under pressure at Asian cup

15:10 GMT+3 30/01/2019
The young squad of Qatar should immense maturity in dealing with the intimidating atmosphere at the Sheikh Bin Zayed Stadium…

Qatar are the toast of the ongoing Asian Cup after the 2022 World Cup hosts defied pundits and odds to reach the summit clash where they will take on Japan. They have overcome strong sides like Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iraq, South Korea and most recently, arch-rivals UAE in the semifinals.

The match against the hosts (UAE) was as intimidating as it gets, given the political tensions between the two countries. But still, the youngsters of the Maroons showed they had cool, calm heads on their shoulders by thumping them 4-0.

Notably, Qatar are the only country not to have a single fan at the Asian Cup 2019 in UAE. Obviously, blockade is the buzzword when it comes to discussing anything between UAE and Qatar.

On the eve of the Asian Cup, there was news doing the rounds of Saoud al-Mohannadi, vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the Qatar Football Association, being denied entry into the UAE.  However, the administrative issue was resolved soon.

On the field, it must be said that Qatar have certainly let their football do the talking. Mind you, this is a team whose average age is 24.87. The Maroons have consciously built a young team keeping the 2022 World Cup in mind.

It must be mentioned that Qatar have been amongst the most impressive teams in the competition. Not having leaked in a single goal in six matches is a record of sorts in itself.

They faced two nations, namely Saudi Arabia and UAE, in the most hostile of environments in a country where not a single spectator backed them. Despite the odds being heavily stacked against them, they came out in flying colours and showed immense maturity which belied their age especially in the semis clash against the host nation.

"It wasn't an easy situation," said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez. "The players were aware there was going to be a lot of pressure but they managed their emotions quite well. I'm very proud of them."

The Qatar players were subject to a barrage of bottles and shoes by the agitated fans who could not stomach their team being thoroughly beaten. Almoez Ali, the current topscorer of the tournament was hit by a shoe after he scord a goal. But the youngster handled the situation with maturity and was not provoked.

 "They are athletes, they are going to play football," said Ali Al Salat, Qatar Football Association's (QFA) Head of Communications. "So, this is what we are going to do and we hope that we represent our country in a good way during the competition."

One only has to recollect the incident involving Dele Alli in a recent North London Derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. Alli, who was hit by a bottle after scoring in a 2-0 win in the Carabao Cup responded by taunting the Arsenal fans with a 2-0 gesture after the match. But Ali, to his credit, engaged in nothing of the sort.

Skipper Hassan Al Haydos was smacked in the head right after he scored the third goal by the covering defender. While it went unnoticed by the referee, Haydos deserves credit for not making it a big issue and giving his reply with his exploits on the field.

Emirati defender Ismail Ahmed was also sent off before the match ended for elbowing Qatar's Salem el-Hajri in the face. Instead of being upset and losing their heads at such acts, the youngsters continued to do what they did best, blazing their way through to the final.

The level of maturity and level-headedness showed by the Qatari players has been exceptional and they fully deserve their spot in the final. If they continue to improve while maintaining the same levels of maturity, they will not be easy fodder for teams in the 2022 World Cup.