WORLD CUP 2022 - How Qatar built a team for a successful World Cup

WORLD CUP 2022 – How Qatar built a team for a successful World Cup

It’s a big leap into the unknown. There is already the question of what this 2022 World Cup will look like with a unique geographical concentration for such an event. But while the draw will take place on Friday, another question comes up insistently: what can we expect from this Qatari selection? We are talking here about a nation that will play its first World Cup. And who finds himself in hat 1 as an organizing country, alongside behemoths like Brazil, France or even Argentina and England.

Qatar has the potential to bring “honor” to the country, announced to AFP Abdallah Al-Ahrak, the midfielder of the national team and the club of Al-Duhail. And if we will have to wait to get a real idea on the question, one thing is clear: the country of the Arabian Peninsula has done everything for years to look good on the lawn for its World Cup, the first of the organized history in the Arab world. An anecdotal selection a few years ago, Qatar has taken a few steps lately to find itself in 51st place in the FIFA rankings, in the same waters as Ecuador (49th), Saudi Arabia or Ghana ( 60th).

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Almoez Ali with Qatar, 2021

Credit: Getty Images

There is a consistency that is quite bizarre for Qatar

Christian Gourcuff, who has been on club benches in Qatar twice – the last time with Al-Gharafa SC in 2018-2019 – has followed this development closely and highlights its strengths. “There is a stability which is remarkable because it is quite rare in selection, he explains. Spain coach Felix Sanchez has been there for a very long time. There is a consistency which is quite bizarre for Qatar which is usually ephemeral and superficial. It’s not a super talented team but there is a cohesion.” The results followed. In 2019, Qatar won the Asian Cup against Japan. And this progression continues:They beat Bulgaria in recent days (note: 2-1 before drawing against Slovenia 0-0), which establishes their level even if it is not a selection that can compete with the best teams in the world.”

Stability is not the only reason for its progress. To succeed in this development, the Gulf emirate has used all its assets. Like for example its power of “seduction”, thanks in particular to its colossal means. Since his coronation in the Asian Cup, the selection of Felix Sanchez has thus been able to accumulate experience to continue to grow. Qatar, which regularly faces prestigious selections during international windows, for example played in the 2019 Copa America (note: one draw, three losses) before playing the Gold Cup 2021 for an interesting record (note: three wins, one draw and a loss in the half against the United States). But the key to the progress of the monarchy on the international scene has other reasons, more or less obscure. Or at least strategic.

Almoez Ali with Qatar, 2021

Credit: Getty Images

There are many naturalized players

The first is obvious when you look at the Qatari eleven. The Spanish coach Felix Sanchez relies on a large delegation of naturalized players, even if it is not in the same proportions as in handball. Against Slovenia in the last friendly match, the starting XI was made up of five players born in Doha, for example. The others were from Algeria, Iraq, Portugal, Sudan or France. “There are many naturalized players. But at the same time, there are very few Qataris by birth since it is a small country made up mainly of expatriates“, specifies Christian Gourcuff. In this country of 2.5 million inhabitants, expatriates indeed form approximately 90% of the population.

For years, Qatar has thus naturalized many players, initially attracted in particular by the salaries offered by local clubs and then stayed enough years in the country to obtain sports nationality according to FIFA regulations, a deadline increased to five years from two in 2008. But at the heart of the Qatari strategy to try to grow on the sports scene, there is also a major and revolutionary project: Aspire.

The Aspire Academy: “A multi-sport Clairefontaine with imperatives for the climate”

Aspire is an academy, installed in a huge sports complex intended to train champions in various disciplines. Built with millions, this “development center”, which was born in 2004, offers dream conditions to young players, who train alongside the selection. “In terms of infrastructure, it’s extraordinarysays the former coach of FC Lorient and Stade Rennais. It is a large air-conditioned dome with accommodation. It’s quite a fantastic structure with state-of-the-art equipment. It is an omnisports Clairefontaine with imperatives for the climate in order to work all year round.”

With a clearly established goal: to make Qatar shine on the world sports scene. It does not matter the country of origin of the sportsmen. “The principle is that they take young people and train them with the integrated school, remarks Gourcuff. And as for the selection, they do not only recruit players in Qatar. The objective is to have a competitive national team even if it is not necessarily with local players as there are few Qataris anyway.”

Pinned by Football Leaks

In 2018, the name of Aspire and its “Football Dreams” program, which tested more than 4 million young talents in “developing countries” in Africa, Asia and South America, however found itself pinned in the Football Leaks. The reason ? The Qatari project, which had created satellites and had partner clubs in Europe (Eupen in Belgium…), was suspected of having set up a method to circumvent regulations on international transfers of minors, according to a FIFA investigation revealed by Mediapart. “It’s a perversion of the system” and that “must not happen“, Jérôme Valcke would have slipped in particular, when he was still secretary general of the international body.

And while FIFA’s rule change on naturalization of players killed this “Football Dreams” program in the bud (note: it was put on hold in 2016), the impact of this academy on Qatari football , who has taken on the Spanish accent since 2010, is in any case already not negligible. “70% of the team that won the Asian Cup came through Aspire Academy“, underlined at the end of 2021 in Sport Star the former Australian international, Tim Cahill, who became responsible within the academy.

Born in Sudan, Almoez Ali, who finished the Asian Cup with 9 goals, is one of those players. So does Baghdad-born defender Bassam Al-Rawi. What surprise at the World Cup? “Afterwards, it’s a player level problem. As for clubs elsewhere. In terms of structure, everything fits. They are ready to put the means but if there are no players…”, announces Gourcuff who regrets the “gap between the means made available and the level of the players”. However, Qatar arrives more prepared than expected.

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