ASIAN CUP winners Qatar make their Copa America bow on Sunday evening as they face Paraguay in Rio de Janeiro. Tom Love (@TomLove_18) shares his betting verdict.
Paraguay v Qatar | Sunday 16th June 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports
The opening game on from the Copa America on Sunday sees the first of the guest sides take centre-stage as 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar debut in the competition against Paraguay.
Qatar are a relatively new side on the international scene; they’ve invested heavily in top quality coaching and first-class facilities at their heralded Aspire Academy, and it’s now bearing fruit. Al-Anabbi recently won the Asian Cup with victory over Japan – they also conceded just once in that tournament showing their defensive resolve.
Head coach Felix Sanchez Bas has worked with the majority of the squad through the youth levels. With an average age of 24, this Qatar roster have played together for plenty of years so there’s some degree of experience for such a young squad.Sanchez usually adopts a three centre-half approach in order to stifle opposition; throw in a compact midfield that is full of running, with the likes of Assim Madibo breaking up play, and they’re a tough nut to crack.
The Arab nation also boast a threat on the break with the attacking duo of Akram Afif and Almoez Ali having pace to burn. They could start wide in order to run directly at defenders as well as provide an out-ball in possession turnovers. They’re no mugs this side, that’s for sure.
Paraguay will see this as an important game as it’s probably their best chance of getting three points in a group including Colombia and Argentina. Not much is expected of La Albirroja this summer and they do lack consistent quality throughout the side. Miguel Almiron sparkled for Atlanta in the MLS in 2017/18 and has settled in well at Newcastle. He is coming off the back of an injury though and may take a while to get going.
At the back Paraguay are gettable; they regularly concede and their recent clean sheet against Guatemala was their first in nine attempts. Fabian Balbuena has done OK at West Ham since moving from Corinthians but apart from him you are struggling for solid defenders.
Up front La Albirroja have Bologna striker Federico Santander, who is an able frontman but nothing phenomenal. Veteran Oscar Cardozo is included in the squad and although he is unlikely to start, ‘Tacuara’ will be a vital personality within the dressing room given his wealth of experience.
The betting angles
Since Qatar are relatively untested at such a level and they’re playing in unfamiliar territory then some might be expecting them to be long odds-on in these clashes but they’re as short as 4/1 to win in the Maracana. In all honesty, I think the bookies are right to give the Asian champions this level of respect but I’m happy to stay away given this is their first foray into such competition.
I do think Qatar will give it a good go though and want to show what they’re all about, which is defensive diligence, strong organisation and the ability to be comfortable on the ball. That coupled with their propensity to shut teams out and I’ll happily take the slight odds-against, and quite strange quotes of 101/100 from Marathon on the match being all-square at the break.
As mentioned, Paraguay will see this as a big chance and I think they wouldn’t be too put off by keeping it tight and getting a feel for the game in the early exchanges. We also have to bare in mind that this game will be played at 4pm local time and the sun will be beaming down in near 30 degree heat, so it’s unlikely to be full throttle from the get-go.
One thing that is also notable when looking at Qatar’s squad is their lack of height. They more than make up for their dearth of physicality in pace and passing quality but it does mean that they could be vulnerable from set-pieces. That thought process has led me to a double-figure priced bet that could be worth some interest.
The aforementioned Balbuena is an obvious threat from dead-ball situations at over 6ft 2 and 13/1 (Betfair) quotes on the Hammers centre-half to notch could well be worth a stab. It will be tough for Paraguay to play through this stubborn Qatari side so they may aim to benefit from set-piece situations where they have an advantage.
At time of writing, no-one has priced up the Shots On-Target market, which is frustrating, but it should be something to look at nearer the time of the kick-off and if available I’ll be getting on him to have at least one attempt on-target too.