Qatar Earns Footballing Credentials
Fadi El Assad/DohaStadiumPlus by CC BY 2.0
It wasn’t easy to accept the Qatari bid as a justifiable destination to host the World Cup. We’re three years away from the event and the Gulf nation’s football is improving at an exponential rate, which could vindicate some aspects of the appointment.
I’m now reporting the very thought that now Qatar is a very real player in the football world. The nation has won the AFC Asian Cup! Defeating Japan 3-1 in the final has cemented this Qatari team and its manager, Felix Sanchez, in Asian football history. Prior to this year, they had not finished better than fifth in this competition, showing that the surges of improvement are tangible.
Who’s grabbing the headlines? Almoez Ali has brought the nation’s football to life. The Qatari scorer is incredibly well travelled for a 22-year-old. He’s played in Belgium, Austria, in addition to Spain during his jet-set youth career, which has exposed him to the quality of European training for the majority of his short career. This experience has paid dividends and earnt him and his nation, the trophy. This included his four goals against Korea DPR in the group stage. He followed it up with a brace against Iran. One in the final as well, topped the tournament cake with a ball-shaped cherry. He took home the golden boot as he was the top scorer by a country mile.
It’s all too easy to credit the offensive with goal stats. Cast your eyes over the results, you will observe that Qatar conceded one goal, that was in the final. Sure, they’ve played some fairly low-quality teams, yet keeping clean sheets against the Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia is very impressive. These teams went to the World Cup, despite Qatar not being there in the past.
It’s a real shakeup in the Asian confederation and testament to changes being rung in Doha. It’s been a team effort, but should you desire names - Saad Al Sheeb the goalkeeper plus Boualem Khoukhi in defence, have brought their success from Al-Sadd (who are top of the league in the Qatari Stars League) to the national team; by keeping it straight at the back, throughout the whole competition with the keeper playing all 630 minutes and the defender missing just 29 of them.
Xavi famously transferred to Al-Sadd from Barcelona, as he continues to turn out for the top Qatari side, it appears his influence is bigger than club level as he teammates are now succeeding without him needing to be present.
A critical eye could see some ‘discrepancies’, that some of the players were not born in Qatar. Some were born in France, Algeria, the Cape Islands, Sudan, Egypt and so on, but does that matter? No. The World Cup was won by France, whose national team has always celebrated the country’s diversity. Qatar’s case is no different. All of these Qatari players in the QSL anyway, thusly: naturalized, henceforth make up this beautiful composition which is succeeding together.
First Asia, Now South America!
Copa America will be held this summer, but, CONMEBOL always requires extra nations to help populate the numbers to make the tournament work mathematically. The closer nations from CONCACAF were often invited in the past, but this year the South American confederation fancied a change, instead extending the invitation to, coincidentally, Japan and Qatar. Yes, you didn’t misread that! Japan and Qatar are off to Brazil to play in the 2019 Copa America.
This opportunity will bare a lot of fruit for the Gulf state, as they seek continuous development toward their World Cup. They’ll play in the most competitive group against Argentina, Colombia, as well as Paraguay. Sanchez will have his hands full to set up his Qatar side against this level of opposition, yet still revelling that his side can walk away from the tournament with lots of experience… and just why can’t they go there and win? Prior to this tournament, you wouldn’t have expected them to win, so who knows.
First Asia, then South America, after that…the world? Why not. The rapid rate of Qatari football improvement suggests they’ll get better and better, becoming the golden generation of their nation, in time for the world cup in their homeland.