Keen to prove themselves one of the footballing giants of Asia,
despite being one of the smallest Gulf states in terms of both
population and area, Qatar are hoping to finally make a serious impression on the football world at large by qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The country has invested heavily in the "All-Star" Qatari league, making it one of the most desirable destinations for football stars at the twilight of their careers. But this is not enough for the Qataris, who dream of seeing their flag flying in South Africa two years from now at the sport's ultimate showpiece.
To this end, the Qataris have entrusted the national team reins to Uruguayan Jorge Fossati, who cemented his reputation in the rich Gulf state after a very successful stint with local club Al Sadd. Fossati led the club to an unprecedented domestic quadruple in his first season at the helm.
Sure enough, Fossati was also able to turn around the fortunes of the national team, and led them to the final stage of qualifying despite their being underdogs in a tough third round group, which included new Asian giants Australia, reigning Asian champions Iraq, and China.
Qatar were not to be overawed in such exalted company, and their stunning Matchday 4 success away in China spread a breeze of confidence amongst the fans, who flocked to nearby Dubai to support the team in their last, decisive match against Iraq. The Qataris duly won to book their place in the final round.
"Our fans were spectacular...although we were playing in Dubai, it felt as if we were in Doha," a grateful Fossati said afterwards.
Their final group, which includes, Japan, Australia, Uzbekistan and Gulf rivals Bahrain, does not seem to worry the Uruguayan tactician. He thinks that his team has achieved a milestone by beating Iraq and China in the previous round, and that it can't possibly get any tougher.
"I am not concerned with my group," he said. "We should not fear any Asian team at this stage."
Fossati, who received the result of the final round draw in Montevideo while his daughter was giving birth, wasted no time after returning to Doha. He has planned a busy schedule for his boys, as they prepare for their first group match in September.
The team will fly to Spain for a training camp this week, and will play a warm-up game against Espanyol of Barcelona on 5 August, before they fly to Tehran to face Iran and Palestine in the West Asian championship. They will then return to Doha and host North Korea, followed by a final friendly against Saudi Arabia in Riyadh.
"It is crucial that we complete this preparation program before we
host Uzbekistan and Bahrain in September," stressed Fossati, who knows that both games are must-wins. He explained that his strategy for the group depended on his players' ability to win all their four home games.
"Playing the first two games at home is a big advantage, and it will be a huge boost if we win both. But it can also turn into a disaster if we
drop any points from them."
We have to collect all 12 points from our home matches, and then try to snatch the best results possible in the away games
. This is my strategy, and this is how we could reach our goal."
He has made a huge list of demands, including a change of structure for the Qatari league, and forcing local clubs to compete in the domestic competition without their international players. Despite the requests not having been approved yet, Fossati has urged football authorities to accept his conditions.
"To reach our target, the clubs have to sacrifice, and everyone must work solely in favor of the national team. I see that as the only way for Qatar to stand any chance of reaching the World Cup finals."