“Forward to a brighter future!” That is the motto for Qatari football in the coming years, especially with the Maroon* *readying themselves to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™. With that in mind, the Qatar Football Association (QFA) has been focusing its efforts on the nation’s youth teams.
The U-19 side have reaped the benefit by winning the AFC Asian Cup in the age group, securing in the process qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, with their youth set-up now pinning their sights on a spot at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016. At senior level, meanwhile, a programme designed to make Qatar one of the best teams in the continent was rolled out four years ago.
Signs of progress A look at Qatar’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking record over the last couple of years shows that the programme is proving a success, with the Maroon proving a team reborn. Victorious at the eighth West Asian Football Federation Championship at the start of 2014, they went on a few weeks later to qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and ended the year in the best possible fashion, winning the 22nd Gulf Cup of Nations and climbing up to 95th place in the world ranking.
Despite a disappointing Asian Cup showing, the Qataris have continued to work hard, contesting a series of friendly matches. After seeing off Estonia, Australia, Uzbekistan and Korea DPR, they beat Algeria and Slovenia, drew with Northern Ireland and narrowly lost to Scotland. The moment of truth is now upon them, with the qualifying competition for Russia 2018 under way, in which places at the following year’s Asian Cup under way are also at stake.
Performances and results to match Maroon supporters were in confident but cautious mood following the Preliminary Draw, which pitched their side in the same group as China PR. Then, a few weeks before the qualifying competition was due to begin, Djamel Belmadi made way as coach for the Uruguayan Jose Daniel Carreno.
The change did not affect Qatar’s form, however, as they beat Maldives home and away, repeated the trick against Bhutan, including a thumping 15-0 home win, and saw off Hong Kong 3-2 away and China PR 1-0 at home to become the first side to advance to the next qualifying round and to the Asian Cup.
“I’m delighted that we’ve achieved our objective,” said Carreno following his side’s achievement in winning their six matches to date. “Qualifying in first place with two matches still to go in the group is amazing. We’ve gone all out for victory in every game and I’d like to thank and congratulate the players and my assistants for all their work.”
In collecting 18 points out of 18, the Qataris scored the small matter of 27 goals and conceded just two, a record that helped them to end last year in 86th place in the world ranking.
Lofty ambitions They have no intention of resting on their laurels, however, and have some major goals to fulfil over the next two years, chief among them continued progress in the qualifiers for Russia 2018. Carreno's side have scaled a further two slots in the first FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking of 2016, hauling themselves up to 84th, a position they will be hoping to improve following their two final group matches against Hong Kong and China PR.
“Though we’ve made the final round, we’re determined to be at our best in these last two games,” vowed the tactician. “We need to show the same competitive spirit and produce the same level of performance to get the right results.”
His team will have many more opportunities to improve their standing in the global hierarchy over the next two years. One target they will have in their sights is to get back up to 58th place, a position they last held in late 2006. Another will be to make their world finals debut before they face the ultimate challenge of hosting the tournament in 2022.