One day separates us from the start of the tenth FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar, which is expected to be the largest of all previous editions. This comes one year before the start of the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar will also host.
After an absence of nine consecutive years, the Arab National Teams Championship returns again in an exceptional edition in Qatar. That would be the second time that the land of Al Annabi will host the tournament since 1998 when the Saudi team was crowned.
This is the first time the FIFA Arab Cup will be played with such huge preparations and so many participating teams, as well as being held in stadiums designated for the First World Football Championship in the Middle East next year at the Qatar 2022 World Cup. This makes the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 an ideal opportunity to test the operational preparations and facilities, ahead of Qatar’s organization of the first Football World Cup to be hosted in the Middle East and the Arab world.
The matches will be held in six of the eight World Cup stadiums, including Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, and Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakra. In Doha, the matches will be at Ras Abu Aboud Stadium and Al Thumama Stadium, and in Al Rayyan, the matches will be at Education City Stadium and Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium.
The best nine teams based on the FIFA World Ranking for the month of December 2021 qualified directly for the group stage and are participating in the FIFA Arab Cup; the remaining 14 teams played in the preliminary rounds, and seven of them qualified for the group stage. The draw for the group stage was held on April 27, 2021, at Katara Opera House in Doha.
The idea of holding the Arab Cup originated with the Lebanese journalist, Nassif Majdalani, and dates back to 1957, which was six years before the first games were held.
Majdalani is known as the “father of sports” in Lebanon, as he began his career in the field of sports media in the country and founded sports federations for football, wrestling, weightlifting, boxing, swimming, and water polo.
The FIFA Arab Cup is witnessing the absence of many stars, most notably the Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah, the Liverpool wing, and Riyad Mahrez, the star of Algeria and Manchester City because the tournament was not included in the international agenda.
Haitham Farouk, the former Egyptian football star and analyst for BeIN Sports channels, said in an exclusive statement to Majalla that he expected “the Arab Championship would be very illustrious in light of the participation of a large number of distinguished teams that enjoy strong technical levels.”
The first group includes teams from Qatar (host), Iraq, Oman and Bahrain, while the second group includes Tunisia, UAE, Syria, and Mauritania, the third group includes Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine, and the fourth group includes teams from Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Sudan.
The group stage consists of four groups, each group containing four teams, with the best two teams from each group qualifying for the quarter-finals. The final match of the tournament will be held on December 18, corresponding to the National Day of the State of Qatar.
Farouk also added, “There are a large number of teams capable of competing, such as the Egyptian team, the host Qatari team, and the Iraqi team with its special appearance in Arab competitions. Strong teams are also being fielded by Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, despite the decision to participate in the second level.”
The Carthage Eagles team will start its campaign in the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 by facing its Mauritanian counterpart on November 30, in a repeat confrontation of the 2019 African Nations Cup match. It comes before the two teams' match in the upcoming African Cup of Nations Cameroon 2021, after which Tunisia will play the Syrian team on the 3rd of December. Tunisia’s group stage matches will conclude with a match against the UAE national team on the 6th of December.
On the other hand, the Algerian team, the holder of the African Cup of Nations, will seek to achieve its first title in the FIFA Arab Cup during its third participation in the tournament and its second participation in Qatar.
Algeria will start the tournament in the group stage, as it is one of the nine best-rated teams that did not participate in the preliminary round. The participation of the Saharan fighters will not be with the first team, but with the local team, which is supervised by national coach Majid Bougherra.
Algeria does not have a long history in the Arab Cup. Out of nine tournaments, Algeria only participated in the 1988 games that were held in Jordan and the 1998 Cup that was held in Qatar. They were eliminated from the group stage in both of them. The Desert Warriors team plans to use the stars of its first team to support its chances of winning the FIFA Arab Cup title after winning the 2019 African Cup of Nations, which was held in Egypt.
As for the Egyptian team, the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup will be contested with a list devoid of professionals, led by Liverpool star Mohamed Salah. Carlos Queiroz, Egypt national team head coach, named 23 players for the tournament.
Queiroz chose seven players from Al Ahly, five players from Zamalek and did not include any player from Pyramids in the list as they are set to play two games in CAF Confederation Cup at the same time of the competition.
The Pharaohs had won the 1992 Arab Cup in Jordan at the expense of the Saudi team, as well as in the Cairo 2007 Cup again at the expense of the Saudi team.
Egypt will compete in the 2021 Arab Cup as the best preparation for the finals of the African Nations Cup to be held in Cameroon early next year 2022. Egypt will also enter the final and decisive stage in the African qualifiers for the World Cup and wait for the draw that will announce the Egyptian team’s competitor in the two confrontations for the World Cup ticket.
“The Egyptian national team is, of course, capable of winning the Arab Cup. It is the titleholder of the 1992 and 2007 editions, and it always remains a candidate in Arab competitions. The Egyptian community in Qatar will be a great helper for the grandchildren of the Pharaohs, despite our team's lack of professional players,” Farouk told Majalla.
Farouk commented on the choices of Queiroz, coach of the Egyptian national team: “I do not disagree with the list that Queiroz announced, even if I wished to include Tariq Hamed, the star of Zamalek, Khaled Al-Ghandour, Al-Ittihad playmaker, and striker Omar Al-Saeed.”
Haitham Farouk predicted that the Egyptian duo Zizou and Mohamed Sharif would shine during the Arab Cup competitions, as well as Saif Al-Din Al-Jaziri with the Tunisian team, Baghdad Bounedjah, the star of the Algerian team, Sofiane Rahimi with the Moroccan team, and Moez Ali, the star of Qatar.
At the same time, the French coach, Hervé Renard, decided to assign the task to his assistant, Laurent Bonadry, to lead the Green in the Arab Cup, relying on a group of young people under the ages of 23 to represent the country in the FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar.
The Saudi national team is considered the title holder of the competition in two successive Cups, in 1998 and 2002. Saudi Arabia is close to reaching the 2022 World Cup after topping its group in the qualifiers, as it is separated by one match in order to guarantee the nomination card for the World Cup in Qatar.
The Syrian team will play on the date of a new Arab challenge when it participates in the tenth Arab Football Cup, as the Syrian team seeks to break the runner-up barrier blocking it on three occasions during its participation in the Arab championships, starting with the first edition in Lebanon in 1963.
Despite the problems that the Syrian national team is experiencing during the current period, which is undergoing radical changes at the level of technical and administrative bodies, football fans in Syria hold hopes that their team will achieve the best results and go far in the competition during this tournament.
The Sudanese team also enters the Arab Championship with new ambitions, as it plays in Group D alongside Lebanon, Egypt, and Algeria.
Falcons' coach, Hubert Velud, is seeking to compensate for the evaporation of Sudanese dreams of reaching the 2022 World Cup and bid farewell to the race early, by achieving Arab glory in the Qatar edition.
As for the Qatar national team, Al Annabi enters the Arab race with a list complete with a large number of stars, led by Moez Ali, Akram Afif, Mohamed Muntari, and other distinguished players who are technically led by the Spaniard Sanchez.
Qatar's greatest achievement in the Arab Cup was to reach the semi-finals twice, to achieve fourth place in the 1985 Saudi Arabia games, and to be the runner-up in the 1998 Arab Cup.
As for Moroccan National Team, it is looking forward to achieving the title in the current games with its distinguished players, most of whom play in the Moroccan Football League, which won the African Championship for local players in Cameroon last February. Coach Hussein Amouta also aspires to add an Arab title to his credits as a coach.
In this context, Amouta announced his firm desire to achieve the titles of the Arab Cup / FIFA Qatar 2021 in Doha in order to get a better classification for Moroccan football after FIFA officially approved the tournament in its records.
Amouta is considered one of the most knowledgeable coaches coming to Doha with the Arab teams in Qatar's stadiums in terms of suitable ground for physical training and speed training with the ball. He had played in these stadiums for the Al Sadd club for years before he coached the Qatari team and won several local titles with it as a coach, in addition to the Asian Champions League as an assistant coach for Uruguayan Jorge Fossati in 2011.
After achieving four record titles in the history of its participation in the Arab Football Cup, the Iraqi team returns to the competition hosted by Doha, due to the decline in its levels and the disappointing results it has had.
The Rafidain Lions team returns to the Arab Cup, coming from the decisive stage of the Qatar World Cup 2022 qualifiers, in which its hopes of getting one of the two direct qualification cards have completely dashed.
The disappointing results prompted Dutch coach Dick Advocaat to resign from his position last Tuesday, days before a tournament. He wanted the resignation to appear better in a way that might relieve the current pressures.
The Palestinian football team will strive to present a distinguished level and leave its mark during its first participation in the Arab Cup. The Arab Cup / FIFA Qatar 2021 is the best preparation for the Palestinian team to prepare for the final round of qualifiers for the Asian Cup in China.
Based on the classifications of the Arab Federation and FIFA, Palestine had a play-off game in the preliminary round against the Comoros national team in Doha. The Palestinian team achieved a solid victory over Comoros (5-1) to qualify for the finals of the tournament for the fourth time in its history when it will play in the third group alongside Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.
The Lebanese team is competing in Group D alongside Egypt, Algeria, and Sudan and will take up the challenge led by its Czech coach, Ivan Hashek, for a distinguished position among the Arab teams.
Lebanon was the host country for the first Arab Cup in 1963 and had a strong presence in the semi-finals of the first three editions of the competition. It was content with winning bronze in one of them.
The UAE national team is expected to compete strongly in Group B alongside Tunisia, Mauritania and Syria. It is participating in the Arab race as a rigorous rehearsal for its journey in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, where it is still ranked third in the qualifying group and has a dream of being in the playoffs for a ticket to the World Cup.
The Dutchman, Bert van Marwijk, named a strong group for FIFA Arab Cup, whereas the 23-man list includes the bulk of the team upon which he has relied throughout the final round of qualifications for the 2022 World Cup, such as Ali Mabkhout, Ali Saleh and Muhammad Gomaa.
However, Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa and veteran Al Wahda forward Ismail Matar have kept their places having been called up for this month’s World Cup qualification double-header against South Korea and Lebanon.
The UAE national team had previously excelled in Qatar during the 1998 Arab Cup and managed to take fourth place, the best position it has achieved throughout its participation in the tournaments.
Regarding the semi-final's expectations, Farouk said: "I nominate the teams of Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco in the event that none of them faces each other in the quarter-finals."
He concluded his statements betting on a number of technical managers to shine in the Arab Cup, led by Queiroz, coach of the Egyptian national team, Hussein Amota, his counterpart in Morocco, and the Spaniard Sanchez, who heads the technical staff of the Qatari team.