Qatar to play in 2020 Copa America

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Sao Paulo: Qatar will be one of the invited guests along with Australia at next year’s Copa America, the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) has announced on Thursday.

The reigning Asian champions will make their Copa America debut tomorrow when they face Paraguay at the historic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

In the next edition of the south American blockbuster event, Al Annabi and the Socceroos will join 10 other nations from the host continent.

The 2020 Tournament, for the first time, will be held jointly in two countries, Colombia and Argentina.

One of the two visiting nations will be drawn in the Colombia-based northern section along with Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru while the other will be drawn in the Argentina-based southern section along with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile, reports said yesterday.

Qatar, coached by Spanish tactician Felix Sanchez will meet Columbia on June 20 in their second match of this year’s tournament, followed by a clash against former World Cup champions Argentina, captained by Lionel Messi on June 23 in Porto Alegre.

Qatar’s involvement in back to back Copa tournaments will definitely benefit the 2022 World Cup hosts and Sanchez stressed the importance of playing against top teams in the world.

“Clearly the goal is to have a good national team in the World Cup 2022,” the Spaniard said in an interview ahead of their opening match of this year’s event.

“The important thing is that the players will gain experience at Copa America. They are accustomed to being strong and competitive. They are successful too, but our plan is to give the players the maximum opportunities to prepare for the World Cup in 2022,” Sanchez said.

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Meanwhie, officials of Football Federation Australia (FFA) yesterday said playing next year’s Copa America will be a boost on the pitch and off it after accepting an invite to the showpiece event.

“We are ecstatic that our Socceroos will be participating in this prestigious competition for the first time in our history,” said FFA chairman Chris Nikou.

“We have been working hard over the last six months to improve our international relationships.”

FFA chief executive David Gallop said playing the Copa America would be shot in the arm both for Australia’s players and commercial interests.

“Our team will benefit from the experience of testing themselves out against some of the best players in the world,” he said.

“On the commercial side, exposing our national team on a global stage has significant upside as well.”

Australia will play World Cup qualifiers in June next year before heading straight to the tournament.

The Copa America, which also features the likes of Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, started in 1916 but has mostly taken place in odd years.

Recently it was played in the year following a World Cup but is now moving to the same window as the European Championships, two years apart from the global extravaganza.