Carreno: We have the quality to qualify
Qatar coach Jose Daniel Carreno admitted his team is under pressure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the country's last chance to reach the finals before hosting the event four years later.
Speaking ahead of the AFC Group C match against Bhutan in Doha on Thursday, Qatar's first home game of the qualifiers, the affable Uruguayan said he was confident his team would respond to the challenge.
"Yes, definitely there's pressure but it's a kind of pressure we enjoy," he told reporters at a Doha press conference. "We think we have enough strong points to enable us to play in the Russian World Cup in 2018."
Qatar is aiming to avoid becoming the first nation since Italy in 1934 to host the World Cup without ever having played in the finals. So far in qualification they have a 100 per cent record, having played and won one game, a 1-0 victory in the Maldives.
The three points though masked a poor performance and the fact that Qatar only won in Male due to a 99th minute goal. Thursday's match against Bhutan -- who lost their first two qualifiers 7-0 and 6-0 -- should provide Qatar with a great opportunity for three points.
Tougher tests lie ahead however, with matches against the top two sides in Group C at the start of this week's games, Hong Kong and China PR, within the next six weeks. Hong Kong play in China on Thursday.
We think we have enough strong points to enable us to play in the Russian World Cup in 2018.
Carreno, who only took over as Qatar coach in June following the sacking of Algerian Djamel Belmadi after a dismal showing in the AFC Asian Cup, said the key against Bhutan would be to score early.
"The Maldives was a good lesson for us that we will benefit from in the future," Carreno said, the former coach of Qatar league side Al Arabi, now managed by Gianfranco Zola. "Teams suffer when they play the smaller teams. Maybe we will suffer when we play Bhutan but we will try and score an early goal to open up the match."
Confidence among the 2022 hosts was boosted by a 4-0 friendly win against Singapore last week. The qualification system means Qatar is aiming to be one of the group winners or four best runners-up from the AFC's eight groups of five teams. These 12 will then be placed into two groups of six, with the first two in each group heading to Russia.
At the beginning of 2015, Qatar may have been a strong outside bet for Russia. Confidence was high after winning the Gulf Cup in 2014, Qatar's first trophy abroad, where they beat neighbours Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the final. But a poor Asian Cup -- where they were thrashed 4-1 by UAE, beaten 2-1 by Bahrain and 1-0 by Iran -- has dampened expectations.
However, if Qatar fails to qualify for Russia, one happier lesson from history is that 1934 was not only Italy's first finals but also the first time the Azzuri won the World Cup.