Al Haydos: Qatar have lofty ambitions for 2022

Khaled Mohammed, Abdelkarim Hassan and Hasan Al Haydos of Qatar celebrate with the AFC Asian trophy

  • The opening match of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ is exactly two years away
  • Qatar captain Hasan Al Haydos looks ahead to the momentous day
  • “I imagine everyone will ask one question: ‘Were you able to sleep?'”

In two years’ time, the eyes of the world will be on Qatar for the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.

When: 21 November 2022

Where: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

What: The opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™

At 12:55 local time, the ceremony will start and the Qatari players and their first group opponents will walk out to a capacity crowd of 60,000 at Al Bayt Stadium. The announcer at the venue, which was designed to resemble a traditional Arab tent, will invite all attendees to kindly stand for the national anthem of the State of Qatar.

In one voice, Qatari fans and players will chant their national anthem, which will echo around the stadium and reverberate across the country. The cameras will zoom in on some of the stars of Al-Annabi (The Maroons), such as Hasan Al Haydos, Saad Al Sheeb, Akram Afif and Almoez Ali, in a moment that will live long in the memory of all Qataris.

From the outside looking in, this is the scene we hope to see in 2022, but how does team captain Hasan Al Haydos, picture this moment, and how does he think he and his team-mates will be feeling? talked exclusively with the Al Sadd star, who is expected to wear the skipper’s armband at the finals, about how he anticipates what will be a truly historic occasion for Qatar.

Hiroki Sakai of Japan battles for possession with Hasan Al Haydos of Qatar Today we’re exactly two years away from kick-off. How do you envisage 21 November 2022?

Hasan Al Haydos: It could be very similar to what you described, but I probably experience some of that every time I pull on the Annabi jersey. I think all my team-mates and I are looking forward to the day when we play the opening match. I hope that we’ll be ready when 21 November 2022 comes around. I imagine that we’ll meet in the morning with everyone smiling, and everyone asking one question: “Were you able to sleep?”

However, I don’t think sleep [or lack of] will be a problem. We’ll have huge amounts of positive energy and all the players will be eager to go to the stadium and write a new chapter in the glorious history of the State of Qatar.

How do you imagine the scene on your way to Al Bayt stadium?

If I close my eyes now, I can picture the streets full of fans streaming into Al Khor, where Al Bayt stadium is located, from all quarters. I see Qatari flags decorating cars and buildings, and being waved by the fans. Inside the stadium, I expect the stands to be at capacity, and the closer we get to kick-off, the more the tension will rise. However, that’s normal, as it’s the day we’ve been waiting for since Qatar was awarded the hosting of the finals back in 2010.

How about when you arrive at the stadium, do your warm-up and then come together for kick-off?

To be honest, we’ve experienced these details in many big games, but this time it’ll certainly be different. I can’t imagine how I’ll be feeling at that time, but with each passing moment, anticipation will increase. I expect the warm-up will enhance our motivation, as we’ll see the fans and hear them cheering for us. However, I expect the final minutes before kick-off to be the best. Like when we go hand in hand towards the pitch at Al Bayt Stadium and when the national anthem begins to play, and I hear the words echo around the whole stadium. The players will, as always, be united while singing the anthem, which has always motivated us to win. I hope to experience a great atmosphere on this day.

What are Al-Annabi’s ambitions for Qatar 2022?

We have lofty ambitions that go beyond a mere honorary appearance. We want to show the skills and the abilities of Qatari players. We want to get results that help us progress to the knockout stage, even though we know that won’t be easy. Some previous editions of the World Cup saw big teams exit from the group stage (Argentina and France in 2002, Portugal in 2014, and Germany in 2018), so we’ll do all we can to avoid an early elimination.

How would you sum up the team’s development in recent years?

Qatari football began to follow a well-thought-out process 17 years ago. Objectives were set, the Aspire Academy was opened, and the search for talent began. In 2014, Qatar won the AFC U-19 Cup and qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015. The top players of that generation subsequently became part of the senior national team. Thanks to successive camps and matches, we developed a team capable of competing and winning titles.

After our exit from the group stage at the 2015 Asian Cup, we built a new side. We improved a lot over the following four years and, as everyone saw, we were the best team at the 2019 edition and deservedly won the title.

Felix Sanchez, manager of Qatar celebrates with Abdelaziz Hatim, Hasan Al Haydos and Saad Al Sheeb of Qatar

Talking about the 2019 Asian Cup, what was the key to winning the title?

It was a tournament of contradictions for us. This was perhaps the one and only time we played without support from our fans in the stands. We were aware of that tremendous responsibility and how much the Qatari people and everyone else here were supporting us. We realised this because of social media and the phone calls we were getting from our families, which conveyed the atmosphere to us. After each win during the knockout phase, we’d return to the hotel and follow the celebrations in Qatar. We realised the importance of what we were doing.

The team had a fantastic campaign, scored the most goals at the tournament and only conceded once. How did you attain these records?

We pledged to do our utmost in every game. We gave our all and didn’t spare any effort. I don’t think we could have been more focused. We approached every game and every opponent professionally. We knew what we needed from each game and managed to attain even more than we’d set to achieve before the tournament. We had the best attack and defence, and dominated the individual awards, such as best player and best goalkeeper.

Looking back on those games, I think we were on the attack the whole time against Korea DPR (6-0) and were clinical against Saudi Arabia (2-0). We eked out wins against Iraq and Korea Republic (both 1-0) but dominated the semi-final against the UAE, scoring four goals. In the decider against Japan, we took the game to them early on and scored two goals. Given that it was the final, we then defended our lead in the second half before we managed to score our third.

Abdulkarim Al-Ali, Abdelaziz Hatim, Saad Al Sheeb, Hasan Al Haydos and Abdelkarim Hassan of Qatar celebrates with the AFC Asian Cup trophy

Do you think the 2019 Asian Cup will be the benchmark for the players and coaching staff?

It certainly showed our ability to deal with different situations: how to attack, when to defend, how to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses, when to retain the ball as much as possible before going forward, when to resort to shooting from distance, and when to penetrate through the middle. Let me thank all the players for their commitment to the technical and tactical instructions of our coaches, and I’d like to salute them for producing their skills. We had what it took and were invincible there, thank God. The efforts of the technical staff paid off in this tournament, as we won the title and impressed the whole continent with what we did.

At the World Cup you’ll be playing against different teams from various continents. How do you assess that challenge?

That’s true, which is why we have a long preparation programme in which we’ll plan for various scenarios. For example, at the 2019 Copa America we played against three strong teams (Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia), having already played a pre-tournament friendly with Brazil. This year we went up against Ghana and Costa Rica, while we continue to compete in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. We’ll take part in the Copa America again in 2021 as well as the Concacaf Gold Cup, before competing in the Arab Cup at the end of the year.

All these tournaments and games will help us gain new experiences and give us more opportunities to get used to playing against big teams in different circumstances. They’ll give our young players the best opportunity to get ready for the finals. In 2022, I think we’ll also have time to play more matches before the World Cup.

What is your message to all the players, national teams, and the fans expected to come to Qatar?

I just want to say, “Welcome to Qatar”. You’ll have a fantastic personal experience, and you’ll enjoy the best finals ever. Qatar will have the best footballing environment.

To the players and teams: we guarantee you’ll take part in the best tournament. Hotels, training grounds and stadiums are very close to each other, which will help you conserve energy. This should encourage you to perform at your very best. Many world stars have been to Doha already and experienced the atmosphere here. Some of them enjoyed smaller-scale events here, such as the FIFA Club World Cup in 2019, and in less than three months, others will get to experience this when the latest edition takes place next February.

To the fans: our stadiums will provide you with the best experience to watch football matches, and you’ll have the rare opportunity of being able to attend two games on the same day. I’m also sure that you’ll enjoy the unique diversity of Qatar; the sea, the desert, as well as both old and modern markets. All these will be connected by the best network of roads and trains. In short, Qatar is ready to amaze you. News