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Story | Education
5 May 2020

Op-ed: Grasping the once in a lifetime opportunity that is 2022

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Image source: Andrzej Kubik, via Shutterstock

Author Matthias Krug’s latest book – published by Qatar Foundation’s HBKU Press – reveals Qatar’s vibrant football history, on and off the pitch. And he says this is why the nation will surprise the world as a FIFA World Cup host.

Recently I had the honor of sharing the stage at my former school, Doha College, with the coach of the Qatar National Team, Felix Sanchez - the very same man who surprised the football world as he guided his young team Qatar to the Asian Cup title last year.

Qatar had a powerful sporting vision early on: that a small country could also dream big, and work hard to achieve those ambitions.

Matthias Krug

Listening to the excellent questions these young students had for us, it struck me what an incredible opportunity they (and by extension we all) have to experience a transformational moment in the country´s sporting history in 2022.

In less than two and a half years, the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East will kick off in my home country, Qatar. As the football and sports world pauses and reflects, it´s a valuable moment to look back and appreciate the journey that took us here.

A look at Qatar´s sports history shows that this incredibly rapid development has by no means been a coincidence. Qatar had a powerful sporting vision early on: that a small country could also dream big, and work hard to achieve those ambitions.

Journeys On A Football Carpet is Matthias Krug’s story of Qatar’s footballing history.

Matthias Krug

Allow me to take you on a flying carpet ride back through Qatar´s vibrant football history. We head back 25 years, to the sold-out Khalifa International Stadium, where Argentina and Brazil are about to face off for the 1995 FIFA Under-20 World Championships title. There is a buzz around the stadium, where I sit next to my father and family as an 11-year-old boy, watching wide-eyed as Argentina scores twice to lift the trophy.

Qatar successfully organized the tournament with just three weeks’ notice, sending a strong message of its hosting ambitions to the world. For me, the opportunity to see top players in action from close quarters instilled a lifelong passion for the beautiful game.

Matthias Krug’s book was launched at an event at Qatar National Library.

As a small boy, I regularly visited the Falcon Club library in Doha and read about the history of the FIFA World Cup. Indeed, it was the fight against the biggest odds that fascinated me – like when the tiny Uruguay took on mighty Brazil in their majestic Maracana Stadium and defeated the hosts to lift the 1950 title.

It was just before this time that organized football started to take shape in Qatar, being played at first on pitches drawn in the sand with oil sometimes used to mark out the field. The ball that kids kicked about in their furjan, or neighborhoods, were often kora sharab, or socks balls, with traditional robes being tied around the waist to run after the ball.

Inspiring athletes were invited to Doha to set an example. In 1973, Brazilian superstar Pele and his famous Santos team visited Doha Stadium to inspire the youth of the country. Just eight years later, a young Qatari side was making headlines half-way across the world, shocking Brazil 3-2 in the quarter-finals and England 2-1 in the semi-finals to reach the final of the 1981 FIFA World Youth Championships in Australia.

It became perfectly clear to me that Qatar also has a fascinating football story to tell. Only nobody seemed to know that story. Not yet.

Matthias Krug

The second-placed finish under the legendary Brazilian coach Evaristo de Macedo proved to be a catalyst for the sustained focus on football and sports which followed, and sent a young sporting nation an important message: no dream, no matter how big, is impossible.

At the 1992 Olympic Games, the young Qatari side led by the legendary striker Mubarak Mustafa reached the quarter-finals, and won the Gulf Cup for the first time later that year in Doha. The country where my father had arrived in 1982 – as an athletics coach who helped to build the foundations of the sport in Qatar – also managed to win its first Olympic medal in athletics that year in Barcelona.

Over many years of research, writing, and interviews with the sportsmen and women who shaped Qatar´s football and sports history, it became perfectly clear to me that Qatar also has a fascinating football story to tell. Only nobody seemed to know that story. Not yet.

It was the strong sporting vision of Qatar´s leadership that made the country decide to bid for the World Cup. When Qatar presented its innovative bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ in 2010, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser was the only woman speaking out of all the bidding nations.

The time had come. It was a dream come true for a football-crazy country and region. But the critics were quick to judge, saying Qatar had no football history or pedigree.

Over the years, I have grown to understand that you sometimes don´t need to convince your critics. In some cases, it can be much more powerful to simply start telling your own story.

At the launch of my book Journeys On A Football Carpet at the magnificent Qatar National Library in November last year, I was joined on stage by Qatari legend Badr Bilal. He scored the winning goal in the semi-finals against England in 1981 with a stunning bicycle kick. Try telling Badr that Qatar has no football history!

The story of Qatar´s football journey is one of having a big vision, and then overcoming even the most difficult challenges to bring it to life.

Matthias Krug

The story of Qatar´s football journey is one of having a big vision, and then overcoming even the most difficult challenges to bring it to life.

It was that determination in the face of adversity which most impressed me about the young Qatari team led by Hassan Haydous, Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, and coached by Felix Sanchez, which won the 2019 Asian Cup, overcoming all the odds and conceding just a single goal to lift the trophy.

The country´s long-term focus on developing young home-grown talents through Aspire Academy and the Qatar Football Association had paid off in spectacular style.

Qatar will enter the opening game on November 21, 2022, as Asian champions. The young girls and boys who enter the stadium that day will no doubt be inspired to go on their own football journeys for an entire generation.

Already, legacy programs like Generation Amazing have succeeded in giving the tournament a significant global impact – with over 500,000 youth reached through football for development programs and the development of 30 pitches across global communities in need.

According to Matthias Krug, Qatar’s footballing story is one of vision and overcoming challenges. Image source: A.Ricardo, via Shutterstock

The day after the final, it will become apparent why this is indeed such a ´once-in-a-lifetime opportunity´ as His Excellency Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, recently stated at Qatar National Library during Qatar Foundation’s Education City Speaker Series.

The time is now to grasp that opportunity.

Matthias Krug is an author and journalist who was born and raised in Qatar. Journeys on a Football Carpet is available in bookstores across Qatar and on Amazon Kindle as an eBook.

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