Qatar-born sports journalist and author, Matthias Krug, spoke at the The World Cup 2022 Lecture Series held by Qatar Foundation partner university Georgetown University in Qatar, where he chronicled the inside story of the country’s most cherished football and sporting moments and players over the past six decades.
As the legendary Pele walked out onto the pitch, spectators at Doha Stadium cheered loudly and young kids watched wide-eyed as their idol waved to the crowds. The year was 1973 and Pele landed in Doha as a reigning FIFA World Cup™ winner, having won the trophy a record third time with Brazil just three years earlier. With his famous Santos side gracing the first grass-pitch stadium in the region, Pele was about to have an inspiring impact on a young generation of Qatari players.
We grew up playing pick-up games of football in the streets where the myriad skyscrapers of Doha would be built decades later
Eight years after his visit, Qatar´s Under 20 team led by the legendary coach Evaristo de Macedo reached the final of the 1981 FIFA World Youth Championships in Australia, marking a transformative moment in the country’s football history. The tournament placed the young country on the sporting map. Qatar had defeated Brazil and England on the way to the silver medal finish. An entire country celebrated and now started to believe that no dream, no matter how big, was impossible on the sporting stage.
Just three years later, Qatar qualified for a first ever Olympic Games at Los Angeles 1984, drawing their opening game 2-2 against eventual champions France. That same year I was born in Qatar into a sports-crazy family. We grew up playing pick-up games of football in the streets where the myriad skyscrapers of Doha would be built decades later.
At the time it seemed a distant dream that our hometown would one day host the greatest football tournament in the world, which had always been played in either Europe or the Americas until then. It seemed equally ambitious to think that the Qatar national team would one day enter the World Cup as Asian Champions.
A natural parallel can be seen between the Qatar team which reached the 1981 finals in Australia, and the team which lifted the historic first Asian Cup in 2019
Just three and a half decades later that constellation is now a reality. A natural parallel can be seen between the Qatar team which reached the 1981 finals in Australia, and the team which lifted the historic first Asian Cup in 2019. Rather than a surprising result as some saw it, both were the outcome of a long-term vision, of years of patient work by the Qatar Football Association and Aspire Academy to nurture a young generation which achieved something outstanding under the inspirational guidance of coaches Evaristo de Macedo and Felix Sanchez respectively.
An exciting young Qatar team led by AFC Asian Player of the Year Akram Afif and record-breaking striker Almoez Ali are preparing to feature in the opening match at the uniquely designed Al Bayt Stadium on 21 November 2022. With the two-year countdown to the first FIFA World Cup™ in the Middle East fast approaching, there has never been a more important time to tell Qatar’s sports story proactively and with all the incredible football passion which it contains.
I believe football history can be a unifying force which brings people from different cultures and continents together to discuss and learn from different social and human contexts
I was inspired to write the first book about Qatar’s football history to document the experiences of a nation and the pioneers who helped to shape those journeys on the sporting fields. One year ago, at Qatar National Library, a panel of football legends and sporting figures came together for the launch of my book Journeys on a football carpet, published by Qatar Foundation member HBKU Press. Qatari legend Badr Bilal sat next to me and spoke with nostalgia about his famous bicycle-kick which helped Al Ennabi defeat England 2-1 in the semi-finals of Australia 1981.
Among those speaking was my also father, Joachim Krug. A lifelong advocate of sports who is now approaching 40 working for the country´s athletics federation, he still brings the same passion to every conversation, to every training session at the historic Khalifa International Stadium. It was at the same stadium that Qatar developed a track record as an outstanding host nation. We watched from the stands as the Maroons won their first Gulf Cup win in 1992, hosted the FIFA Under 20 World Championships in 1995, and later the highly successful Doha 2006 Asian Games.
For young boys and girls growing up in Doha and around the world, a new and inspiring opportunity awaits: Qatar 2022
For some fans across the world, Qatar's sports history was still a somewhat untold story. For me, having been born and raised in Qatar in a sporting family, it was a part of my upbringing. When German tennis legend Boris Becker played on the Centre Court in Doha in the 1990´s, I was there as a ball-boy, catching his sweaty towel. Later on as a journalist, I was fortunate to interview many of the Qatari and global football and sports figures who shaped that history. These first-hand accounts narrate the earliest games, played on sand with lines drawn with oil, sometimes using makeshift balls made of socks. They recount the exploits of ´the falcon´ Mubarak Mustafa who swooped in with a crucial headed goal for Qatar as they reached the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games quarter-finals at Camp Nou. I spoke to the first female football team from Qatar, and runner Mariam Farid was present at the book launch as one of the many women´s athletes who have been pioneers in developing women´s sports in the country.
Nowadays, Qatar has become a capital of world sports which has already hosted World Championships in many different sports – from boxing to cycling, athletics to handball and football in 2022. The feedback from readers, global media and the international awards that the book has received showcase just how much genuine interest there is in learning more about the football history of Qatar in the build up to 2022.
Rather than an exclusive club which contains only a few nations, I believe football history can be a unifying force which brings people from different cultures and continents together to discuss and learn from different social and human contexts. Many readers have reached out to me personally to say that the book has helped them to understand Qatar´s sporting development and what the country is trying to achieve by hosting the world´s biggest football tournament.
What seemed almost impossible three decades ago is now a reality rapidly taking shape across Qatar. For young boys and girls growing up in Doha and around the world, a new and inspiring opportunity awaits: Qatar 2022. The sporting heroes that grace the pitches of Qatar and the winning captain who lifts the trophy at Lusail Stadium on 18 December 2022 will inspire the next generations to work harder, think bigger, fight to overcome all kinds of challenges and believe that even the most distant dreams are possible.
Dr. Matthias Krug is an award-winning author, academic and journalist who was born and raised in Qatar. Matthias has written numerous books, short stories and articles, including “Journeys on a football carpet”, which was published in 2019 and won awards at the 2020 International Book Awards and the 2020 Living Now Book Awards. Matthias has written extensively about football, society, politics and culture for over 18 years for some of the biggest publications around the world, including for the BBC, CNN, ESPN, The Huffington Post, The Irish Examiner, Al Jazeera English, 442, El Pais, Arts Monthly Australia, and many others.
For more on his work follow Matthias on Twitter: @Matthias_Krug