Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks you’ll no doubt have realised that Qatar will be hosting the 2022 World Cup, the first time the tournament will be staged in the middle east and perhaps the first time the World Cup will be staged in the winter with temperatures in the capital of Doha reaching as high as 40 degrees in July.
A lot of rumours have been going round proclaiming Qatar have bought the World Cup from the ‘corrupt’ FIFA. I’m not here to debate these things, I’ll leave that to the conspiracy theorist’s and bad losers around the world looking for an excuse. So what has Qatar given the footballing world and what does football mean in this little talked about country?
Let’s start with the present, the emirate of Qatar has a population of around 1.7m, which is tiny if you consider the fact that New York and London each have a population of around 8 million. Qatar was a part of the British Empire until September 3rd 1971 when they became an independent state. As many of you probably know, the country is a rich state, mainly due to having the third largest oil and gas reserves in the world, despite only being 4,416 square miles which is tiny compared to the 830,000 square miles of neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
As for football Qatar are currently ranked 114th in the FIFA World Rankings, which puts them two places below Wales and just above the mighty Suriname in 115th. Not the best ranking for a team that will be first seeds come 2022.
The origin of football in Qatar is quite ironic, it was brought to the country in the 1940’s by oversea’s mainly coming from British oil workers, these same oil and gas reserves are helping pump money into European club football 70 years later, as owners of Manchester City and Malaga recently can testify while also sponsoring Arsenal and next season Barcelona.
The Qatar national team and indeed it’s clubs in the Qatar Stars League, the highest professional league in the country, have not really benefitted from the great wealth in the Emirate state. The top club side is Al Sadd with 12 league titles since the Stars League formation in 1963. Continental success has also been rare with Al Sadd the only Qatar side to make an impact in the Asian Champions League with only one win in 1989.
The national team itself has also not made any impact at all on the world stage. They competed in their first match on 27th March 1970 and lost 2-1 to Bahrain in Doha. Their best International competition result was in the 2000 Asian Cup where they reached the Quarter Finals without winning a game. Three draws in the group stage left them with one of the best third placed spots to earn them a Quarter Final spot against China which they went on to lose 3-1, bowing out of the competition with only 3 goals scored and no victories.
Qatar are currently hosting the latest edition of the Asian Cup and with their recently announced hosting of the World Cup were hoping to put on a bit of a show on the pitch and off. While the tournament certainly started with fireworks in the sky, Qatar were left with a 2-0 defeat to ponder, losing to Uzbekistan in the game’s opening match and making it an uphill battle for qualification.
Whether Qatar can get the money for men of their country to try to develop grass-roots football in the country and make some sort of impact in 2022 is debatable. While South Africa did go out at the group stages in 2010 when they hosted, they left the tournament with their heads held high by defeating France. I have my worries as to whether Qatar can even make an impact in their group for 2022 when they have such a poor record for international football in general.
The popularity of football in Qatar is not in doubt, football is the most popular sport in the country. While I don’t claim to be an expert of Qatar football, from the outside Qatar seems to have the same problem as a lot of small footballing countries have. The English Premier League and La Liga seem to have more of an impact than the countries own league and in turn national team. Perhaps with the world cup coming in 2022 we can see an upturn in Qatar fortunes and hopefully the people of this rich nation can not only prepare their country to stage the World Cup but to perhaps compete.