Kuala Lumpur: Spanish legend Xavi Hernandez has said Qatar's AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 triumph should not come as a surprise as it is the result of a systematic development programme.
Qatar, having never advanced beyond the quarter-finals in their previous appearances in the Continental showpiece, were a revelation in UAE 2019 as Felix Sanchez's team recorded seven wins to emerge champions on February 1.
Four of the seven wins were recorded against former AFC Asian Cup winners - Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Korea Republic and Japan - and Xavi said it was just reward for the efforts the Qatar Football Association (QFA) had put in preparing the team.
“We must remember that Qatar Football Association has been preparing this team for years to win this title. The Aspire Academy project is the idea of H H Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and the idea is now achieving great success. The Qatari fans see the results now,” said Xavi in a television interview with Al Kass Sport Channel.
Qatar defeated four-time champions Japan 3-1 in the final and Xavi attributed the win to the Maroons brand of brave football.
“Qatar football is on the right track. Now you see the results produced by the Qatari team. It is a great team now. I am proud to work with these young players. I am happy to see the performance of the players on the field. I am proud to be here in Qatar,” the 39-year-old added.
Final: Japan v Qatar
Xavi, who signed for Qatar Stars League side Al Sadd four years ago from European giants Barcelona, said the nation's rise was not a football miracle.
“A lot of fans in Spain told me about ‘the football miracle’ that is happening in Qatar. I explain to them that this is no miracle. This is due to the preparation of many years and the great efforts and plans at Aspire Academy.
“What Aspire Academy has done is to prepare a platform for the emergence of players that we currently see on the pitch. And I am here to support such projects,” the Al Sadd captain added.
Thirteen players with Aspire Academy background featured in Qatar’s squad at the AFC Asian Cup.
Xavi can be regularly seen helping out at Aspire Academy when not busy with his club commitments.
“I love football, whether playing or managing. That’s why I’m at Aspire and I’m helping Felix Sanchez on this project. My presence in Qatar is for the 2022 FIFA World Cup."
Such was the FIFA World Cup winner's confidence in the team that he had predicted that Qatar would win the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
“I did not predict Qatar winning the title because I am sympathetic towards Qatar. I knew Qatar would win because I know their potential and because I am very close to the players. I am with them daily. I know the skills of the players and the distinctive style adopted by coach Sanchez,” Xavi explained.
“When I predicted Qatar to win against Korea Republic, I also knew what the Korean team had in terms of skills, so I picked Qatar,” Xavi said of the 1-0 quarter-final win against the two-time winners."
“When I predicted the final to be between Qatar and Japan, some thought I was defending Qatar and some said I was crazy. But I thought Qatar would win 1-0 against Japan probably via a penalty because Japan is a strong team,” Xavi said.
Qatar did even better, defeating Japan 3-1 in a final which saw Almoez Ali scoring a stunning opener to set a new AFC Asian Cup goals record of nine as the Maroons lived up to Xavi's expectations.