Qatar’s World Cup team will emerge from four months in near-lockdown on Friday to take on Canada with most of their fans nervously watching from afar.
All their games since June 2 have been behind closed doors and the Qatar Football Association has even kept sponsors away from training camps in Spain and Austria as they prepare players for a baptism of fire — a World Cup debut on home territory — in 60 days.
Having spent tens of billions of dollars preparing for the first World Cup in an Arab nation, Qatar is desperate to see the national side get past the first round where they are grouped with Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador.
But they lost 3-0 to a Croatia under-23 team behind closed doors on Tuesday. And while public games in Vienna against Canada on Friday and Chile on Tuesday are only friendlies, they will still be seen as a key test of how much steel Spanish coach Felix Sanchez has put into the side.
Team spokesman Ali Salat told AFP that Sanchez and the QFA had agreed to keep the 30 players away from Qatar and the prying eyes of intrigued rivals.
“The coach and the federation were in discussion over the past season. This was agreed.”
Sanchez and the players will briefly return to Qatar in early October and will hold an open training session before returning to Spain for more isolation before the World Cup starts, Salat said.
Qatar are the bottom-ranked team in Group A — 48th on FIFA’s list. Sanchez was named coach in 2017 on a mission to make an impact this year.