The countdown to the first FIFA World Cup ™ to be staged in the Middle East continues. Today, Friday 18 December 2020, marks exactly two years before the Final of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 ™, a game every Qatari would love to see Al-Annabi contest.
Far-fetched as that dream might seem, a quick search of the history books reveals that, 1981, Qatar did reach a global final - at the FIFA World Youth Championship in Australia - only to lose to West Germany.
Qatar qualified for the knockout phase as runners-up in Group A, having beaten Poland, drawn with USA and lost to Uruguay. In the quarter-finals, they beat Brazil, led by Julio Cesar and Josimar, 3-2 thanks to a hat-trick from midfielder Khalid Salman.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Salman spoke about Qatar’s impressive campaign at that tournament. "Good planning, a quality squad, and the outstanding leadership of our Brazilian coach Evaristo de Macedo all played an important role in our distinguished performance at that tournament,” he said.
"A solid programme was put in place for that squad, whose objective was to represent Qatar in the best way possible. But as we progressed from one round to the next, we grew more and more hopeful, especially as we weren’t just representing Qatar, but Arab and Asian football as well,” he added.
A dream come true
In the semi-final, Qatar beat England 2-1, a victory that was beyond the players’ wildest dreams. However, in the decider they suffered an emphatic 4-0 defeat against a West German side led by Ralf Loose, who scored a brace that day.
Salman recalled the historic triumph over England and talked about that final, which he thinks Qatar could have won had it not been for Sydney’s weather conditions at that time. "If it weren’t for the rain, Qatar would have won,” he insisted.
"We didn’t expect to beat England, one of the tournament favourites. However, the morale in the squad, as well as the confidence we’d gained from previous games, led us to believe we could win and prove that we were in the final on merit, not luck.
Speaking of the final, Salman said: "We had as good a chance as Germany, but the weather conditions on the day before the match didn’t help us; we couldn’t have our training session on the pitch because of the amount of water on it.
"We weren’t used to playing in rainy conditions, which made things very difficult for us. In fact, we had two chances in the first 15 minutes, but because of the condition of the pitch, we didn’t convert them. Honestly, had it not been for the rain, Qatar would have won,” he stressed.
Realism for 2022
Despite the country’s youth side reaching the World Youth Championship final in 1981, Al-Annabi’s senior team had to wait until 2019 to win the Asian Cup, an achievement Salman considers a source of pride for him and the older crop of players.
"I’m very proud of the generation that won the Asian Cup, because they achieved what we wanted to do. This group prevailed against top Asian sides like Japan, Korea Republic, Australia and Iran, and became the continent’s best side,” said the former player, who currently works as a football pundit
But can Al-Annabi repeat that success and make the FIFA World Cup Final in two years’ time? "The World Cup will be a different story," Salman said, adding: "We must be realistic because we’re not better than football powers like Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, England and France.”
"It’s possible that our side will get good results and go beyond the group stage, which would be an achievement in itself. But honestly, we haven’t reached the level of the teams that have top players competing in the major leagues," he said.
Regardless of how Al-Annabi fare in the finals, Salman believes that hosting the World Cup is magnificent in itself.
“Organising that mega sporting event and impressing the whole world will be an achievement not only for Qatar, but for all Arabs, as His Highness the Emir has said. The world-class stadiums and the state-of-the-art infrastructure, be it the metro, tunnels, bridges or hotels, will be a source of pride for Qatar and the whole region,” Salman explained.
"After 2022, it’ll be difficult for any country to organise a World Cup in a similar fashion. It’ll be an extraordinary event that will honour not only Qatar but all Arabs," he concluded.