World Cup: And your host... Can Qatar spring a surprise at home tournament?

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There is always something around the host nation at a World Cup.

The team with the most backing in the stadiums, and with the most pressure on them to compete on home soil.

So much of the discord around the 2022 World Cup since Qatar was announced as the host nation has been about the country itself and its suitability to be the home of football's biggest tournament.

With hosting duties come playing duties, though, and November will mark the first time Al-Annabi (The Maroon) will have featured at a World Cup.

Having only played their first game as a nation in 1970, Qatar have been preparing to give the best account of themselves they can at their own tournament, and Stats Perform has taken a look at how they are shaping up heading into the national team's biggest few weeks.

The coach

One constant through preparation for this tournament has been in the dugout, with Felix Sanchez in position since July 2017.

The 46-year-old from Catalonia was shaped as a coach at his hometown club, spending 10 years working with Barcelona's academy between 1996 and 2006, before making the move to the Gulf with the Aspire Academy, working with the most promising Qatari footballers.

In 2013, he was hired as head coach of the nation's U19 side, winning the AFC U19 Championship in 2014, prior to being promoted to oversee not only the first team, but the U23s, guiding them to third place at the AFC U23 Championship in 2018.

A year later, Sanchez led Qatar's senior side to a maiden Asia Cup triumph, beating Japan 3-1 in the final in Zayed Sports City in the United Arab Emirates.

Sanchez uses a 3-5-2 formation, and has so far taken charge of 88 games, winning 47, drawing 16 and losing 25.

His contract ends once the tournament does, and so the pressure is on him to either earn an extension or perhaps prove he can take on a high-profile role elsewhere.

The players

Having worked with the nation's best and brightest prospects since 2006, Sanchez knows his players well and has a few key figures he will be relying on to make an impact at the World Cup.

Goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb has been his country's number one since debuting in 2009, and has 68 official appearances to his name according to Opta data.

Abdelkarim Hassan is Qatar's third-most capped player, and takes up one of the three centre-back roles, despite predominantly playing at left-back during his career, and is known for having a venomous shot, exampled with his goal against Yemen at the 2019 Gulf Cup.

A third stalwart who like Hassan and Al Sheeb also plays his club football for Al Sadd, where Xavi cut his teeth in management, Hassan Al-Haydos is the team captain, a key playmaker in attack and Qatar's most capped player of all time, with 143, according to Opta.

Akram Afif is another Al Sadd player who has become an increasing influence in the forward line, he was voted the best player in the AFC in 2019 and is equally adept at creating as he is scoring.

Arguably Qatar's key player heading into the World Cup is striker Almoez Ali, who was top scorer in the 2019 Asian Cup (three goals in six games) and the 2021 Gold Cup (four in five).

The results

Qatar certainly cannot say they haven't had plenty of preparation, having played a frankly astonishing amount of football in the last two years for an international side.

Sanchez's men played 25 games in 2021, and a further 13 in 2022, though the strength of opposition has differed greatly.

They lost all of their three games at the 2019 Copa America but impressed following their invitation to the CONCACAF Gold Cup last year, beating Grenada, Honduras and El Salvador, before losing 1-0 to the United States.

That led them into their next invitation, to play against European opposition as an unofficial part of a World Cup qualifying group, providing friendly opposition to teams without a game in a group that included Portugal, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland.

Their early results were good, beating Luxembourg and Azerbaijan before drawing with Ireland, though they only avoided defeat in two of their remaining seven games, losing 3-1 and 3-0 against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and 4-0 in both games against Serbia.

Qatar reached the semi-finals of the 2021 Arab Cup before losing 2-1 to Algeria, and have largely drawn games since then, including a friendly in July against Serie A side Lazio.

They have kept themselves busy in the lead-up to the competition, with friendly defeats to Croatia's U23 side and Canada followed by a draw with Chile.

Sanchez's men have also played four non-FIFA friendlies in the last month against Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Albania, winning all four.

The group

Despite being top seeds thanks to their hosting status, Qatar were handed a tough group at the draw in April. Their opponents will be Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands.

Ecuador finished fourth in South American qualifying, ahead of the likes of Peru, Chile, Colombia and Paraguay, scoring 27 goals in their 18 games. Only Brazil (40) scored more.

Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations in February, beating Mohamed Salah's Egypt in the final on penalties, before sealing their place at the World Cup in the playoffs via the same method against the same opposition. Their squad is likely to include star players Edouard Mendy, Idrissa Gueye and Kalidou Koulibaly, though Sadio Mane could be missing through injury.

The Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but made sure they did not repeat that shame as they won Group G in European qualifying, winning seven of their 10 games and beating Turkey and Erling Haaland's Norway to top spot.

Qatar will have to contend with the likes of Mendy, Koulibaly, Virgil van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay, but if they can get off to a positive start when they take on Ecuador in the opening match of the tournament on November 20, then who knows what might be possible?