Qatar’s hopes rest on Barca

By Lewis Steele



dmg media (UK)

World Cup 2022

NO HOST nation has ever lost the opening game of a World Cup and Qatar have chucked billions at ensuring that fate doesn’t befall them when they kick-off the 2022 finals against Ecuador today. ‘Few teams will have prepared for this World Cup as meticulously or for as long as Qatar have,’ says Ali Rea, an expert on Qatari football. ‘The squad was being forged before the country was even announced as hosts in 2010.’ The mastermind behind Qatar’s rise is Spaniard Felix Sanchez, who was head-hunted in 2006 from a role at Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy. Eighteen of their 26 players at the World Cup were developed at Aspire — Doha’s £1billion academy — with Sanchez using Barcelona as his template. The Qatari football powers have also paid huge salaries to foreign players to star in their domestic league and stay long enough to be eligible for the national team. Ten of Qatar’s World Cup squad were born outside the nation. Defender Ro-Ro, for example, was born in Portugal and Karim Boudiaf hails from France. Their World Cup squad also includes players from Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, Ghana and Sudan. They are ranked 50th in the world and Sanchez’s team have played 31 matches since the start of 2021, including five since England’s last game in September, a run that includes four straight wins against the likes of Albania and Honduras. ‘A 2-2 draw with Chile has renewed our optimism,’ adds Rea. ‘Qatar’s biggest challenge will be how they physically compete with their Group A opponents.’ Every host nation bar South Africa has qualified for the next stage at their home World Cup. Qatar, in a group with Ecuador, Netherlands and Senegal, have a mountainous battle to do that, but you wouldn’t bet against them. Qatar v Ecuador, live on BBC1, 4pm kick-off