In the absence of the injured Atiba Hutchinson, David (Jr.) Hallett will captain Canada against Qatar in an international friendly in Vienna on Friday.
Hutchinson, 39, Canada’s all-time men’s cap leader with 97 senior appearances, was sidelined with a hamstring injury before the season with Besiktas of Turkey. Howlett, 32, takes the captain’s armband in his 48th appearance for Canada.
“He’s going to lead the team out there,” Herdman said Thursday. “He is in fantastic form at his club Reading, near the top of the Championship (England’s second tier).”
Herdmann will be expecting a well-rehearsed opponent at the World Cup hosts Generali Arena, home of Vienna, Austria.
“Qatar will probably be the most prepared team going into the World Cup,” Herdman said. “The investment that has gone into them is very special – being able to use all the opportunities they have as a country to centralize their players and play more like a club team.”
The players are largely drawn from Qatari teams, with Al Sadd and Al Duhail on the way.
Herdman noted that Qatar played club sides Lazio and Fiorentina in Italy during the summer and are coming up against Croatia’s under-23 team this week.
“They’re a team that’s well organized, very disciplined, a good football team. And you can tell they know each other inside out. So it’s going to be a real challenge for Canada.”
Qatar is ranked 48th in the world, five places below Canada. The World Cup hosts will play in World Cup Group A with No. 8 Netherlands, No. 18 Senegal (African Cup of Nations Champions) and No. 44 Ecuador.
Canada, who have never faced Qatar before, will play No. 13 Uruguay next Tuesday in Bratislava, Slovakia.
For the Canadians, it’s the first reunion since an ill-fated camp in Vancouver in June when players refused to play in a friendly against Panama due to a contract dispute. The team made the break to play Curacao and Honduras in the CONCACAF Nations League on June 9 and 13. But contract talks continue.
Canada’s final World Cup warmup is Nov. 17 against No. 24 Japan in Dubai. The Canadians play No. 2 Belgium in Group F on Nov. 23.
A crowded schedule, due in part to the pandemic, has made for a busy workload for recent Herdman players. The coach has to balance the desire to prepare the team for Qatar with only a few games left, while not overloading the players coming from a tight club schedule.
“Some players are probably overweight,” he said. “It means we have to slow down a little bit around these games and be smart. It’s nice to get them back and you just want them to play two games because you haven’t had them for three months. . But unfortunately…some of them are overburdened in their clubs and need some rest.”
But Herdman recognizes the talent at hand and “what it takes to reach the next level of standard that we have to reach.”
“Four years into this tour, if you don’t know your team now, you’re in some trouble,” he told The Canadian Press. “I think it’s clear in our minds that there is a core group and a group of players who are trying to surprise, push, shock, give us something else to think about.”
Club Berg winger Tajon Buchanan has returned from injury and will likely only make the bench for the Uruguay game “if he meets all the markers.” Toronto FC defender Donnell Henry, who went down with a hamstring problem on the eve of camp, is with the team but is not expected to see action.
Herdman wanted Henry to be part of the camp “to keep him close to this team.”
“He was a big presence in the dressing room. He’s a real leader of men.”
Qatar is coached by 46-year-old Spaniard Felix Sanchez, who was Barcelona’s youth coach before moving to Qatar in 2006 to join the Aspire Sports Academy. He took over the senior team in 2017 and moved to coaching Qatar’s youth teams.
The diameter has never been higher than No. 42, with a low of No. 113.
Qatar missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and finished 2-7-1 in the six-team third round qualifying group.
But Sanchez led Qatar to victory in the 2019 Asian Cup, winning seven straight games while outscoring the opposition 19-1. Qatar defeated Iraq, South Korea and the host United Arab Emirates in the knockout stage and defeated Japan 3-1 in the final.
Almuz Ali led the competition with nine goals.
The star winger Akram Afif is also present in this team, who has been declared the best player of the year 2019 by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Qatar, the visiting team, failed to get out of the group stage at the 2019 Copa America, losing 1-0 to Colombia and 2-0 to Argentina before drawing 2-2 with Paraguay.
Qatar finished third in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup, losing in a penalty shoot-out after losing 2-1 to Egypt in the semi-finals.