Doha, Qatar – Qatar is set to make history on November 20, when it becomes the first country to make its debut at the FIFA World Cup by virtue of being the host.
FIFA announced Qatar as the hosts of the 2022 World Cup in December 2010, news that brought the attention of football fans to the Gulf nation.
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Football, however, was officially recognised as a sport in the country long before that.
Qatar Football Association (QFA) was formed in 1960 and it became a FIFA member three years later. After spending the first two decades on the losing end of most international matches, Qatar’s team made its first impact at the Gulf Cup in 1984, when it reached the final which it lost to Iraq on penalties.
The 1990s saw the rise of the Annabi.
In 1992, Qatar won its first-ever Gulf Cup and qualified for the Summer Olympics.
Despite never having qualified for the World Cup before, Qatar came close to making the final cut on a number of occasions.
They were in the race for a spot at the 1990 World Cup but finished third in the final round of qualifiers, and dropped out of the reckoning for France in 1998 after losing their last playoff to Saudi Arabia.
Qatar’s progress at the regional and continental level continued in the 2000s, as they won the gold medal at the Asian Games as hosts.
The Annabi’s biggest honour, however, came in 2019 when they won the Asian Cup for the first time.
Qatar started off the tournament in the UAE with an impressive run in group stages, winning all three games and scoring 10 goals.
They battled past Iraq in the round of 16, edged out South Korea in the quarterfinals and thrashed UAE in the semi-finals.
In the final, star forward Almoez Ali put Qatar ahead early on and a strong defensive unit, led by goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb, helped the side seal a 3-1 win.
The goal they conceded in the final was the only one throughout the tournament while scoring 19.
The team returned home to a heroes’ welcome, and raised the fans’ expectations for the World Cup.
The results since the 2019 win have been mixed. Qatar were invited for the 2019 Copa America to provide quality international exposure.
They lost three matches and drew one.
Additionally, Qatar was part of various AFC world cup qualifier groups, as well as the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup 2021, where it reached the semi-finals.
The Annabi reached its highest FIFA ranking of 48 last year following an impressive run at the Gulf Cup where they finished third.
Given its recent rise in international football, Qatar’s fans will be hoping that their team is able to make the most of the host factor and make a push for the knockout stages.
Qatar’s coach Felix Sanchez will rely on the strong defensive unit, led by goalkeeper al-Sheeb, to keep clean sheets.
Ali’s performance will be key to Qatar’s chances in front of goal as he was the team’s leading scorer in its Asian Cup triumph. In addition, winger Akram Afif and captain Hassan al-Haydos form the core of Qatar’s attack.
The Asian Cup-winning coach admits that the quality of opposition at the World Cup will be different from all other tournaments his team has participated in and will not make it easy for them to progress.
“Tough matches await us in the tournament,” Sanchez said in a recent interview. “We will face very strong teams, teams that are used to being in the World Cup.”
Sanchez has underlined the importance of having home support behind the team in its group matches against Ecuador (November 20), Senegal (November 25) and the Netherlands (November 29).
“The fans’ cheers will help Qatar during the World Cup as it will push the players to give their best.”