Qatar is set to host the Asian Cup for the third time after 1988 and 2011. However, this time, the expectations are very high because it comes right after the country hosted its first FIFA World Cup.
In terms of infrastructure and facilities, the consensus is that Qatar has to deliver the absolute best during the Asian Cup.
Ahead of the tournament, scheduled to start on January 12 next year, Jassim Abdulaziz Al Jassim, the CEO of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 LOC (Local Organizing Committee), in an exclusive interaction with Sportstar, spoke about the legacy Qatar wants to leave in the footballing world, how Doha is ready to host another footballing extravaganza and his desire to visit India.
The AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qatar is going to be the first Asian Cup to be held in FIFA World Cup stadiums. Your thoughts on this?
I think we are already witnessing a great legacy from the World Cup. As you know, we are using nine stadiums in this tournament, which is even more than the World Cup. Seven of those are World Cup stadiums. Lusail, which hosted the final last year is hosting the opening and final of the Asian Cup. I think that speaks a lot about the legacy.
We have the infrastructure here in Doha, we have all the transportation. The Asian Cup is one of the biggest tournaments from several perspectives, so I think it is a great start for us after the World Cup to use this legacy.
Apart from locals, residents of India bought the maximum number of tickets for FIFA WC after Saudi residents. What is your message to Indian fans ahead of the tournament?
India did not participate in the World Cup, but still, there were a lot of Indian nationals who bought tickets for the World Cup. Right now, India is participating in the Asian Cup, so it is more of a reason for the Indian community and the people to come and enjoy this tournament.
Everyone is welcome in Doha. But I think this tournament will be different for the Indians because their national team is participating.
For me, as a Qatari, the support for Brazil or Argentina is different from the support of my own country. So, it will be the same for the Indians, I am sure. The Indians will play at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium and the Al Bayt Stadium in the group stages. These are very very nice stadiums that everyone will enjoy. Hopefully, we see India qualify for the next rounds as well.
You spoke about the Ahmad bin Ali stadium. India will start its campaign against a much higher-ranked Australia team in that stadium. For you, how much of a chance does India have to take something from that game?
We have seen that being strong on paper does not mean anything on numerous occasions. In every single tournament, we see surprises. Teams play better than what is expected from them so don’t let rankings, numbers, and names prevent you from aiming high and dreaming of going into the next round.
I have seen some matches of the Indian team. They have been doing much better than they used to. Also, in the match where they drew (0-0) against Qatar (in a 2022 World Cup qualifying match in September 2019) in Doha, it was a very difficult match for Qatar, but India played really well. I think with the spectators being behind their backs, India can have a very good tournament.
Talking about rankings, Qatar beat Japan in the last final as well. We also beat Korea and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) in the last Asian Cup in 2019.
Are there any players from the Indian team that have caught your eye or you like?
I like the defender, [Sandesh] Jhingan. He played very well against Qatar. And of course, [Sunil] Chhetri, the captain and No. 10. He is the third highest (active) international goalscorer after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. That is great.
If India performs well in the AFC Asian Cup here, do you see a positive outcome for the football grassroots scene in Qatar considering Indian expats comprise a huge chunk of Qatar’s population?
I think all the people living in Qatar, from all nationalities and religions, have shown a lot of interest in football during the World Cup and other tournaments.
I think there has been a massive growth. Even during the QSL (Qatar Stars League) this year, we have seen a lot of people attending, more than in the last [few] years. Most of them are locals, but a lot of them are expats. I think the community, as a whole, is enjoying the vibes – not only supporting the team and the whole stadium vibes and the entertainment that’s happening, and inshallah we expect it to grow more and more.
Fan experience was an important element of the success of Qatar 2022. What can fans expect during the Asian Cup?
We do expect a lot of people to come, that is for sure. It is not just about the tournament itself but the vibes going around. From the perspective of fan experience, I think it would be similar to [the] World Cup.
Qatar, as a country right now, has all the bases, to start that. We have many tourist activities that are happening at the same time. We have the (Doha) Expo happening and also have the World Aquatic Championship (from February 2 to 24). A lot of things are happening for anybody to come to Qatar, not only to visit the stadiums for the matches but also to enjoy the rest of the country.
Yesterday, Qatar Tourism announced a number of activities. The Souq Waqif has planned a lot of activities and the Doha port also. The whole country wants to give the vibe of a festival during the Asian Cup, which I think a lot of people will enjoy.
Lastly, have you had the chance to visit India?
No, I have not visited yet, but my mother loves the country and takes long trips to India at least twice a year. I want to go there and have told my mother, that I will accompany her soon on one of her trips.
The writer is in Doha at the invitation of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Local Organizing Committee