Former Brazil captain Thiago Silva is hopeful of starting his first international match since last summer's World Cup humiliation on 'home' soil when the Selecao take on France in a friendly in Paris on Thursday.
Legendary Spanish striker Raul said on Tuesday he still has the desire to contribute as a player ahead of his debut for iconic U.S. club New York Cosmos.
“I could explain it to you but I don’t think you would be able to understand it,” Qatar coach Djamel Belmadi informed a journalist asking about a 4-1 defeat at the hands of United Arab Emirates in the opening game of the 2015 Asian Cup in January. Writers certainly struggled to comprehend how it was that the team lost all three games in the tournament and it is safe to say the Algerian’s mood did not get much better as the month progressed.
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Going home pointless was bad enough but it gets worse when you consider that heading into the tournament there were high hopes back in Doha. The team’s form was excellent with just one defeat in more than 20 games, a run that contained some impressive results – thrashings of Lebanon and Uzbekistan, a win over Australia and the Gulf Cup title in November.
Even more painful was that the Asian Cup was of greater importance for Qatar than most other teams. The country is looking towards the 2018 World Cup in Russia and saw the continental tournament as vital preparation. Hosting the World Cup themselves in 2022 is obviously huge and bosses really don’t want Qatar to make their debut on the global stage just because they are the ones holding the party. Qualifying for the next World Cup is an absolute priority and the experience when there should also help the national team at home four years later.
— QFA (@FollowQFA) March 25, 2015
In Australia, the team started well with a fine goal from star playmaker Khalfan Ibrahim against the UAE in Canberra but then the defence went to sleep and goalkeeper Qasem Burhan couldn’t awake from his personal nightmare. Then came defeat to Iran and elimination. There was still time to lose to Bahrain, a team that had been expected to finish bottom of the group.
Qatari journalists Down Under were talking of a change of coach and it would not have been a surprise. Belmadi had been in place for almost a year and despite the encouraging results, he presided over a major failure when it really mattered. Coaches have gone for less, much less. Yet, the 38 year-old is still picking the team for the upcoming friendlies with Algeria -his homeland and a team he would love to beat- and Slovenia.
These are healthy tests but full of danger for the Maroons. The former Southampton and Marseille midfielder may still be in the hotseat but it is a precarious position. Defeats over the next few days would give bosses pause for thought. If there are to be changes then it is best to make them before qualification for the 2018 World Cup starts this June.
Thirteen of the 21 members of the new squad made the journey to Australia. It is a squad with a hefty Lekhwiya feel with seven coming from Michael Laudrup’s team, who are set to take the Qatar Stars League title. There are some new additions in the form of Umm Salal’s 21-year-old midfielder Nasser Al-Khalfan and goalkeeper Lecomte Amine.
Unsurprisingly, there is no place for the unfortunate Burhan, while rock-like defender Bilal Mohammed is injured – as is the star of the 2014 West Asian Championship, Boualem Khoukhi. Ghanaian-born Mohammed Muntari was naturalised just before the Asian Cup and looked dangerous. If he can link up with Khalfan Ibrahim then Qatar can score goals, the question is whether the defence can improve upon January’s performance.
Algeria boss Christian Gourcuff has picked a semi-experimental squad, leaving out a number of players who helped the team to the second round of the 2014 World Cup when they pushed eventual champions Germany all the way before bowing out. There have been reports of player unrest and dissension. If so, this can only be good for Qatar. If not, there is plenty of talent to hurt them. Sofiane Feghouli of Valencia is in there as is the excellent Yacine Brahimi, who has been having an impressive season for Porto.
It’s not only Qatar who are looking to bounce back from Australian misery. Fellow first round failures Saudi Arabia and Jordan meet early next week. The Saudis had their chance after a fine win over North Korea but were well-beaten by Uzbekistan in the all-important final group game. Jordan thrashed Palestine but struggled to make any impact in an attacking sense against Iraq and Japan.
Yet most attention will be focused on Qatar and the Algeria and Slovenia tests. Belmadi is unlikely to survive two poor results and performances. He has to show that he is the man to lead the team through qualification for 2018, to show that he is taking the team in the right direction – towards Russia. If the scowling schemer looks like he can do so, then he will keep his job. If he doesn’t, he won’t. That will be easy for all to understand, even journalists.