2018 AFC Futsal Championship West Zone Qualifiers preview
Bangkok: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan will be in action in the 2018 AFC Futsal Championship West Zone Qualifiers which kicks-off in Thailand on Friday.
The seven West Asian teams will compete for four spots in the Finals in Chinese Taipei next year. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Finals.
Iraq and Saudi Arabia, who qualified to the Final stage of the 2016 tournament, are looking to repeat history but will go toe-to-toe with the UAE and Bahrain in Group A.
Last year, Iraq finished second in Group B to progress to the quarter-finals but lost 3-0 to Uzbekistan, who would go on to claim the runners-up spot.
The result however, was the best Iraq have achieved and head coach Haitham Abbas Bawei knows that it won’t be easy saying: “Every country in the West Zone has been developing over the past few years, and the other three teams in Group A are really strong.
“But we’ve had good preparation, and we promise our fans that we will reach the Finals.”
Saudi Arabia are aiming to outdo their previous performance as they left the 2016 Final tournament without a single win, but Yves Frances Hermans’ *(pictured above, centre) *charges has been training hard the past few months.
“We’ve had several training camps in Saudi Arabia, then in Egypt. Before we arrived in Thailand, we also went to Malaysia for a training camp,” said Yves.
With a team with an average age of 23, Yves believes his squad are ready. “It will be a tough Qualifiers for sure, but mentally our team is good and I don't have to worry because they are never nervous.
“We will show the rest of Asia the capabilities of our young talented team. “
Despite only making one appearance in 2012, UAE look to be serious contenders to qualify as they showcased excellent performances in the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games in Ashgabat, attaining two wins and two losses, despite not progressing to the knockout phase.
“Participating in the Asian Indoor Games was good for the team to gain experience and for us to improve on our tactical side,” said assistant head coach Abdulraouf Omar.
“Futsal has developed greatly in the UAE over the past eight years, and in this qualifiers, every team has the same chances this year.
“The small details in the match will be the one making the difference in the games.”
Bahrain missed the previous AFC Futsal Championship after an unsuccessful run in the qualifiers, but won’t be hesitant to give their all to return to the Finals stage since their last appearance in 2002.
Adel Marzooq’s (pictured above, left) side will face Iraq on Matchday One, and admits that they are tough opponents.
“Iraq are a strong team, but our team came here to play for the win. We will try our best tomorrow.”
In the three-team Group B, the sentiments are shared with Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon, who have yet to progress beyond the group stages.
Lebanon reached the 2016 AFC Futsal Championship but had their campaign ended in the group stage with a 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan, where they were one win away from making it into the quarter-finals.
Head coach Shahab Sofalmanesh (pictured above, centre) also led the U-20 side to the AFC U-20 Futsal Championship quarter-finals back in May, and claims that there has been much development since.
“Right now, we are at a good place, we just started a new futsal plan. The Lebanese Football Association has started to invest in futsal development and also because of AFC’s continuous contribution to the sport”, said Sofalmanesh.
There is no doubt, however, that Lebanon will have an upperhand in the qualifiers, after competing in the recent 2017 Asian Indoor Games.
“Playing against Asia’s best in Ashgabat gave us experience, and we will use that experience to improve on our weak points.
Jordan’s performance in the 2016 tournament was not spectacular with three losses, but similar to Lebanon, their recent performance in Ashgabat earned them a quarter-final appearance, making them one of the favourites to qualify.
“We started training four months ago, we are in good shape,” said head coach Salman Saleh. “We’ve had various matches against domestic futsal clubs and friendly matches against Iraq.
“We have analysed every team, and with that preparation, we hope to win.”
Qatar finished top of Group B in the last qualifiers, but their promising Final stage campaign was cut short with losses to Japan and Australia in the group stage.
Despite the lack of experience, having only played friendly matches against Malaysia and a 14-day training camp in Thailand prior to the Qualifiers, head coach Ahmed Rashid (pictured above, second left) has his sights on a bigger goal.
“In the future, we are looking qualify for the FIFA Futsal World Cup, but it will be hard because all three teams are so evenly matched,” said Rashid.
“We wish to bring home good news, as our fans are waiting for our good results.”
Photos: AFC & Football Association of Thailand