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Qatar seek AFC Asian Cup China 2023 qualification advantage against Bangladesh

Doha: Qatar will look to move closer to confirming their place at the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Finals on Friday as Felix Sanchez’s continental champions host Bangladesh in Group E of the Asian Qualifiers at Doha’s Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.

The winners of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup lead the standings with 13 points from their first five games and, with a nine-point lead over third placed Afghanistan and three matches remaining, the Qataris know a solitary point will take them four points clear of second-placed Oman.

Winning the group will assure Qatar their place in China 2023, which they can also achieve by finishing as one of the best four second-placed teams at the end of the second round of the Asian Qualifiers.

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In what promises to be an absorbing tie, 1,800 tickets have been made available for fans to watch the first Asian Qualifiers match to be played in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic having forced the postponement of fixtures scheduled in March and June.

Head coach Sanchez has named a strong squad for his side’s first competitive game in 2020, which comes just three weeks after Qatar slipped to a 2-1 loss at the hands of Korea Republic in a friendly in Austria, the third match without a win for the FIFA World Cup 2022 hosts.

Reigning AFC Player of the year Akram Afif and his predecessor Abdel Karim Hassan are among nine players from Qatar Stars League leaders Al Sadd SC to be included in the 23-man selection, while Almoez Ali, the leading scorer at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, is one of six from Al Duhail SC to feature.

The game will be Qatar’s first competitive match since losing 1-0 to Saudi Arabia in the semi-final of the Gulf Cup in December last year, while Bangladesh have not played in official competition for even longer due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jamie Day’s side, who are bottom of the standings with a solitary point picked up in a 1-1 draw with India in October last year, last played competitively when they lost 4-1 to Oman in Group E action in November 2019.

However, Bangladesh have sought to regain fitness in recent weeks following a nationwide shutdown due to the pandemic, with Day’s side facing off twice in friendlies against Nepal last month, winning the first game 2-0 before the teams shared a 0-0 draw.

The victory over the Nepalese was Bangladesh’s second success in 2020, having picked up a 3-0 win over Sri Lanka in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup friendly tournament in Dhaka in January.

Bangladesh have since met amateur side Qatar Army and second division club Lusail Sports Club in training games in Doha, losing both matches, and assistant coach Stuart Watkiss knows his team face a major challenge against the Asian champions.

"You only get truly match-fit by playing competitive matches, but unfortunately we have still not played nearly enough," Watkiss told The Daily Star. "Qatar's players have played many matches, so they have an advantage in terms of fitness."

The two teams last met on Matchday Three of the Asian Qualifiers, with Qatar winning the game 2-0 in Dhaka. Qatar lead the group with 13 points, one ahead of Oman, with Afghanistan in third on four points. India have two points and Bangladesh prop up the table with one point.

Qatar v Bangladesh
Venue: Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium
Kickoff: Friday, 19:00 (UTC+3)

*Poll ends on December 4, 23:00 (UTC+8)

Photos: Bangladesh Football Federation

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