MANAGER: Felix Sanchez
Sanchez began his career as a coach within the youth system at Barcelona. He has been in charged since 2017 and oversaw their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In 2019 he led them to the AFC Asian Cup title for the first time in the country’s history.
Although Qatar will be competing at their first World Cup this November/December, that is not to say the hosts will be content to just make up the numbers, especially considering the years of preparation they have had for this moment.
To whet your appetite for the showpiece event, we have picked out five key members of the Qatari squad who can help the hosts compete on the world stage.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Saad Al Sheeb | Position: Goalkeeper | Age: 32
• The Al Sadd shot-stopper has been a mainstay of the Qatari national team since his debut back in 2009.
• To date he has won more than 75 caps and featured in major tournaments such as the AFC Asian Cup, Copa America, and Concacaf Gold Cup.
• In what will be a challenging group in Qatar, the hosts will need Al Sheeb to be at his best if their defence is to withstand the potent attacking threats of Senegal, Ecuador, and the Netherlands.
Abdelkarim Hassan | Position: Leftback | Age: 28
• The country’s third most capped player with 120 appearances, Hassan has been the first choice leftback for Al Annabi for over a decade, and his influence is unparalleled.
• Following the emergence of talented leftback Hammam Al Amin, Hassan has reinvented himself at left centreback, a position he is expected to occupy at the finals.
• The current Al Sadd star, who had a brief stint at Belgian first division side KAS Eupen, is expected to play a vital role this winter.
Hassan Al-Haydos | Position: Forward | Age: 31
• The playmaker, who can also operate in midfield and on the right wing, was one of Qatar’s star performers during their 2019 Asian Cup triumph.
• With 158 games under his belt, Al-Haydos is the most capped Qatari of all time. Undeniably among the most influential players on the team, he has contributed 38 goals during his time with the national team.
• His experience will be priceless when tasked with unlocking the formidable defences of their Group A opponents.
Akram Afif | Position: Forward | Age: 25
• Afif is a versatile player who can operate on either wing or even spearhead the attack.
• The player also has considerable experience for his age, having spent time in Europe with Belgium’s KAS Eupen and Spanish teams such as Villarreal and Sporting Gijon.
• He currently plays for Al Sadd, where he has stamped his influence on the Qatari league.
Almoez Ali | Position: Striker | Age: 25
• The current Al-Duhail star was top scorer at both the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup, hitting four and nine goals respectively.
• He will undoubtedly play a crucial role for Qatar at the global showpiece, as has been the case for several years.
• He is currently Qatar’s third-highest scorer of all time, having racked up 39 goals to close in on record holder Mansour Muftah (44).
MANAGER: Gustavo Alfaro
The Argentine took over the Ecuador national team in 2020, guiding Ecuador to an unlikely fourth spot in the South American qualification standings and thus an automatic spot at Qatar 2022.
The likes of Boca Juniors, Tigre and Al-Ahli on his managerial CV and will be tasked with guiding Ecuador at their first World Cup finals since 2014.
Ecuador are out to make history on their return to the FIFA World Cup and will have the chance to do so in the opening match of Qatar 2022 against the tournament hosts.
Should the South Americans win that game, it will be the first-ever defeat for a host nation in the tournament curtain-raiser.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Piero Hincapie | Position: Defender | Age: 20
• Ecuador’s Kaiser. A product of the prolific Independiente del Valle academy, Hincapie won the U-20 Copa Libertadores with the Ecuadorian club before moving to the Argentinian city of Cordoba to play for Talleres.
• Hincapie is comfortable on the ball and blessed with a superb left foot. He is an aggressive tackler with a gift for reading the game and knowing when to intervene.
• He is also a commanding presence in the air, thanks to his strength and spring.
Pervis Estupinan | Position: Defender | Age: 24
• The flying leftback is one of Ecuador’s main attacking threats. He showcased his ability in Villarreal’s stunning run to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League in 2021/22.
• The statistics show just how influential Estupinan is for Ecuador. He had more touches of the ball for La Tri (1,119), created more chances than any of his teammates (22 in 17 matches) and he excels at the back.
• Strong and full of running from kickoff to the final whistle, Estupinan is a constant presence in attack. His precise crosses pose a threat to opposing defences.
Moises Caicedo | Position: Midfielder | Age: 20
• Caicedo is an essential cog in the Ecuador machine, with virtually everything going through him, both in attack and defence.
• Regardless of the tactical system employed by Alfaro, Caicedo was the linchpin and driving force of the team and made his mark in every department.
• Caicedo started out as a central midfielder and became a box-to-box player with much to offer in defence thanks to his impressive work rate and fitness.
Gonzalo Plata | Position: Forward | Age: 21
• Another talent to roll off the Independiente del Valle conveyor belt, Plata moved to Lisbon heavyweights Sporting in 2019 but failed to break into the first team.
• He was loaned out to Valladolid, where he played an important in their promotion to La Liga last season.
• Highly talented, he excels in one-on-one situations and can change the course of a game in the blink of an eye.
• Ecuador are hoping he can up his goal count and help fire their challenge at Qatar 2022.
Enner Valencia | Position: Forward | Age: 32
• In a squad packed with youngsters, the Fenerbahce man is flying the flag for experience. Valencia starred at Ecuador’s last World Cup appearance, scoring goals against Switzerland and Honduras.
• The team captain, he will have the task of showing Alfaro’s new faces the way in Qatar, while also coming up with the goals his country expects of him.
• With La Tri suffering from a lack of genuine finishers, Valencia will have a heavy burden on his shoulders.
MANAGER: Aliou Cisse
Cisse has been in charge since 2015. He was under enormous pressure to return Senegal to the heights of the 2002 team, who reached the World Cup quarterfinals.
They didn’t make it out of the group stage in Russia in 2018 and were then beaten finalists in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
There was finally cause for celebration earlier this year when Senegal lifted their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations. Now Cisse is targeting improvement on the global stage.
Senegal would doubtless prefer to avoid a repeat of their Russia 2018 campaign in Qatar. The Lions of Teranga created history by becoming the first-ever nation to be eliminated from a FIFA World Cup group stage via their fair-play record.
Two decades after Korea/Japan 2002, when Bruno Metsu’s side shocked the football world by advancing to the quarterfinals – an achievement that has done wonders for the confidence of Sadio Mane and Co.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edouard Mendy | Position: Goalkeeper | Age: 30
• Four years ago, Mendy was enhancing his growing reputation between the sticks for modest French club Reims.
• Since then, he has become one of the best goalkeepers on the planet. The Chelsea custodian enjoyed great success in 2021, lifting the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Super Cup and was rewarded with The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper award in January.
• Equipped with an imposing frame, exceptional reach, and reassuring presence, Mendy has, in the space of just a few years, developed into one of Senegal’s key components.
Kalidou Koulibaly | Position: Defender | Age: 31
• Cisse has placed great trust in new Chelsea signing Koulibaly, handing him the captain’s armband in 2019 and assigning him the task of marshalling the Senegalese rearguard.
• The right-footed centreback is renowned for the confidence he exudes on the pitch, well-timed interceptions and effective clearances.
• Technically proficient and a sound decision-maker, he has the ability to relaunch play from the back, supporting counter-attacks and offering an extra option when his teammates are faced with a compact defence.
Idrissa Gueye | Position: Midfielder | Age: 32
• Gueye is the beating heart of the Lions of Teranga, capable of accelerating the game as well as slowing it down.
• Adept at creating an overlap and delivering a final pass, he also excels at intercepting and winning the ball. Gueye’s ability to read the game makes him the perfect match for Senegal’s style of play.
• A big-game performer tends to thrive under pressure.
Nampalys Mendy | Position: Midfielder | Age: 30
• Transformed by his fantastic displays during the AFCON in Cameroon, Mendy has breathed new life into his career as he gets ready to experience a World Cup for the first time.
• The diminutive player brings extra pace to the Senegalese midfield, where his physical strength and low centre of gravity allow him to maintain his balance in tight spaces.
• Tactically sound, strong ball-winning skills, the ability to use his body to fend off opponents, and a varied passing range.
Sadio Mane | Position: Forward | Age: 30
• Mane is viewed as the most technically gifted player in the Senegal XI. Recently named African Footballer of the Year for the second time.
• The Sedhiou native is capable of explosive bursts of pace at key moments during crucial matches.
• Creative on and off the ball, he causes defences significant problems with his incisive and energetic approach.
• Astute in his positioning, Mane poses a considerable goal threat, irrespective of whether he has his back to goal or is facing it.
MANAGER: Louis van Gaal
Like a moth to a flame, the temptation of leading Holland out at another major tournament was just too good to turn down for Van Gaal, who in August came out of retirement five years after being sacked by Man United.
In a rollercoaster few days, Van Gaal recently described the World Cup being staged in Qatar as ‘bulls***’, publicly slapped down Virgil van Dijk over tactics and told Ajax coach Erik ten Hag to avoid Old Trafford like the plague.
He’s got them winning again, which is the most important thing, and will be hoping to build on the promising signs the Dutch showed at Euro 2020.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Virgil van Dijk | Position: Centreback | Age: 31
• At the relatively old age of 31, Van Dijk, who has never even played in a UEFA EURO, will finally get his chance.
• The Breda boulder has been central to the re-emergence the Netherlands with his impregnability, leadership and threat from set-pieces.
• Having won everything there is to win at club level with Liverpool, he now desperate to guide his country to the trophy that has somehow eluded some exceptional generations.
Denzel Dumfries | Position: Right wingback | Age: 26
• Dumfries made two appearances for Aruba as a 17-year-old in 2014, scoring a spectacular long-ranger against Guam. The uber-confident player swiftly informed the ABC Island nation he would not represent them in a competitive fixture, however, as he was certain he would one day wear orange in a World Cup.
• The Rotterdammer’s maiden international expedition piqued the attention of Sparta Rotterdam, who whisked him from non-league Barendrecht.
• Eight years on and Dumfires can lay claim to having been one of the stars of UEFA EURO 2022, excelling for PSV and current club Inter Milan, interesting Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Real Madrid, and owning 35 Netherlands caps.
Frenkie de Jong | Position: Midfielder | Age: 25
• A ball-retention and pass god, the Gorinchem native would be a perfect fit for the Dutch ‘Total Football’ of the 1970s or the Spanish tika-taka of in and around South Africa 2010, while he’s been likened to Franz Beckenbauer and his now-coach at Barcelona.
• With his skill, vision and passing he could be a new Xavi. He’s spectacular with the ball at his feet. He’s strong, keeps possession, has incredible vision and can play the killer pass and split defences.
Ryan Gravenberch | Position: Midfielder | Age: 20
• A more well-rounded midfielder and he only turned 20 in May. • Gravenberch became the youngest player to appear for Ajax in the Eredivisie at the age of 16 years and 130 days.
• Gravenberch grew up idolising Zinedine Zidane, and attributes his ball control and skill to studying the Frenchman.
• He’s very strong with great technique and balance. He is also a fine tackler, boasts illimitable energy, can also get significant speed on his long-distance curlers and unleash thunderbolts.
• Excellent defensively and offensively, Gravenberch could patrol in front of the defence or, if Georginio Wijnaldum fails to recover from injury, function in a more advanced midfield role.
Memphis Depay | Position: Forward | Age: 28
• He is, to the Oranje, as fundamental as oranges are to the Oranjebitter.
• Depay’s cocktail of unpredictable skills, defence-fracturing through-balls and lethal finishes prompted current Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal to label him “one of the most difficult players to stop in the world”.
• The Netherlands’ chances of a first gold in Qatar will be indebted to a Barcelona player who is closing in on Robin Van Persie’s national goal record of 50.