Doha (AFP) – Just 12 days into the job Jorge Fossati faces his first test as Qatar coach when his side play away at South Korea in a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
The highly ambitious 2022 World Cup hosts are sixth and bottom of Group A after losing their first two games — away to Iran and, surprisingly, home to Uzbekistan — in the third round of AFC qualifying for Russia.
As well as failing to register a point, Qatar are yet to score a goal in a group where the top two teams automatically qualify.
Before jetting off for South Korea, Fossati said he was still hopeful that Qatar could reach their first World Cup.
“I believe that Qatar can qualify. It will be very, very difficult but I am optimistic,” said the 63-year-old, conceding that third place and play-off qualification might be his team’s best bet.
The dismal start saw his predecessor and fellow Uruguayan Jose Daniel Carreno sacked barely a fortnight before Thursday’s crunch game.
Fossati, formerly manager of Qatari league champions Al Rayyan, will rely largely on Carreno’s team, drafting just one new player into his 23-man squad.
Defence may prove the key in Suwon, though Fossati did see his team beat Serbia 3-0 in a behind-closed-doors friendly in Doha last week with Uruguayan-born forward Sebastian Soria scoring a hat-trick.
The squad also includes Akram Afif, the first Qatari to play in the Spanish La Liga.
Form — and history — suggests Qatar have a tough task against Uli Stielike’s team.
In seven matches against each other, Qatar have only beaten South Korea once, back in 1984.
The two teams met at the same stage of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, South Korea winning 2-1 in Seoul and 4-1 in Doha.
The Koreans — spearheaded by in-form Tottenham forward Son Heung-Min — have taken four points from their first two matches, beating China and drawing with Syria — Qatar’s next opponents, on October 11.
– High hopes –
As with most things in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup looms large and the hurried switch in managers underlines just how much is at stake for Qatar, and how much pressure is on Fossati.
His appointment — he said “yes” after a five-hour meeting on September 24 — was a very public demonstration by a usually secretive country of its desperate desire to reach the 2018 finals.
Privately, officials in Doha are increasingly confident that Qatar will ride out corruption and human rights controversies over its selection as hosts and ultimately deliver a world-class tournament in 2022.
The emirate, driven by huge gas and oil revenues, is reshaping its country for 2022, building new stadiums, a metro system, road networks and even a whole new city to host the World Cup final.
But the one place Qatar is yet to prove itself is on the pitch.
If they don’t qualify for Russia they will become the only nation in the modern era to host a finals without ever playing in one before.
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