Qatar go into the Asian Cup starting on Friday as hosts and holders but the shock axing of Carlos Queiroz as coach last month has thrown their title defence into serious question. 

Prior to that, the talk was about how Qatar would right the wrongs of a disappointing early exit from their home World Cup just over a year ago.

Qatar's three straight defeats was the worst performance of any World Cup host in history.

Former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Queiroz took over following the departure of Felix Sanchez, but in early December the Portuguese was sacked and replaced by Tintin Marquez.

Marquez is a familiar face to Qatari fans because he coached Al Wakrah in the domestic league and has a long relationship with football in the Gulf state. 

"In football all the time there is pressure," the 62-year-old Spaniard told AFP soon after his sudden appointment.

"More important for the players is enjoying the match," he said, downplaying the idea that his side was under pressure to make up for their World Cup flop.

Qatar open the Asian Cup on Friday when they face Lebanon at the 88,000-capacity Lusail Stadium, which staged the World Cup final.

Big mistake

Queiroz, who coached Iran at the World Cup and was assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, had a four-year contract with Qatar. He won five, lost five and drew two during his aborted tenure.

Qatar's football association gave no reason for the decision to get rid of him and the move, and its timing, baffled many.

Former national team player Raed Yaqoub said Queiroz had started the "positive" work of refreshing Qatar's starting line-up to "give other names a chance". 

Interfering with that, said the player-turned-pundit, was "a big mistake".

Yaqoub said that although Marquez is popular and well known in Qatar, "I think that holding him responsible only a month before the tournament is a mistake".

Mohamed Mubarak al-Mohannadi, another former national player, said the switch so close to the Asian Cup left the team "facing the gun" given the difficulty "for any coach to make the required transformation within a month's period".

Marquez's first game in charge, at the end of December, was a 3-0 win over a Cambodia team which failed to qualify for the regional championship.

The Spaniard, who played for Espanyol, said it was "important" that he knew Qatari football.

"I know the players, I know my mentality and I know... my idea for playing," he said, explaining he was not "arriving new". 

Significant decline

Publicly at least the players have welcomed his appointment.

Defender Tarek Salman told AFP the change meant the team would need to adapt to a Spanish style, but added: "I think it's going to fit us and we hope to achieve good things with the coach."

He insisted that the expectations on the team were not the same as they had been going into the first World Cup in the Middle East.

"Normally you have pressure," he added, saying that being the current Asian champions would affect the team "in a positive way, not in a negative way".

Yaqoub said that despite the upheaval Qatar should easily get out of a group that also contains China and Tajikistan, and that the semi-finals should be possible.

But he sees Japan, beaten in the final by Qatar in 2019, as the strongest team, while also fancying Roberto Mancini's Saudi Arabia.

Mohannadi warned that Qatar will have a target on their backs as holders, particularly in the eyes of Japan, who he said would be "looking for revenge".

"Japan is a developed team and its level has risen greatly since then," he said.

"Unlike the Qatari team, whose level has declined significantly."