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A 2018 World Cup qualification could be crucial for Qatar 2022

When Qatar was awarded the World Cup initial questions were asked of how so many fans could possibly be fit in a nation of just 1.7 mln people

Graham Ruthven

Published: Updated:

Coverage of Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup has focused greatly on physical construction. The Gulf nation is building an completely new national infrastructure to host the tournament six years from now, with entire cities rising from the desert to welcome football’s great and good. But Qatar is also preparing from a football prospective, too.

When Qatar was controversially awarded the World Cup, initial questions were asked of how so many fans could possibly be welcomed to nation of just 1.7 million people. How could they be catered for? Would there be enough hotel rooms? And how is it possible to play top level international football in such heat? Then focus turned to their national team - how can Qatar expect to compete against the world’s best?

Indeed, at the time of the awarding it was a legitimate question. Qatar’s national team found themselves ranked outside the world’s top 200 having never made an appearance at a major tournament before. The term ‘minnows’ didn’t quite do them justice. In the international football’s food chain, they weren’t even alive.

Realistic target

Great strides have been made since then. Qatar still haven’t made it to a major tournament, but have impressed at the Asian Cup and have made significant progress in World Cup qualification. Making it to Russia for the 2018 tournament is a realistic target, with José Daniel Carreño’s side now just one round away from qualifying.

Qatar have been drawn against China, Iran, South Korea, Syria and Uzbekistan in Group A, with the top two finishing sides qualifying automatically and the third place team going into a fourth round play-off stage. The grand project has placed genuine progress ahead of the 2022 World Cup as the ultimate objective, but the Gulf nation might pull up a seat at international football’s top table before them.

“It is important that we are there [Russia],” Hassan Al-Thawadi, head of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said after the draw for the third round of qualification. “The fact of having 2022 is an extra motivation for the players.”

Al-Thawadi is right to underline the importance of making it to the 2018 World Cup. As a country that has spent the past six years readying themselves for a competition that is still six years away the value of preparation is well recognised and Russia would give them the ideal grounding for 2022.

By making it to the World Cup in Russia, Qatar could validate themselves as a top-tier international football side before they host the tournament themselves, avoiding four years of snide mocking that would inevitably follow if they fail. The Gulf nation can ease the pressure on themselves significantly.

What’s more, Qatar seemingly stand a good chance of qualifying from their group. Carreno’s team won their first seven matches out of eight in the last round of fixtures, only dropping points to China in their final outing. There was also a record 15-0 win over Bhutan, demonstrating the level at which Qatar are performing right now. They have become one of the most accomplished sides in the Asian game, even if they have flown under the radar for the most part.

Of course, Qatar has hardly escaped the focus of the world’s media, with scandals over the conditions of workers seemingly emerging on a weekly basis.

But their national team’s development over the past few years has gone largely unnoticed. They might still be at a lowly 83rd in the FIFA rankings, but their ascendency has been a rapid one. By the time 2022 comes around, it’s anyone’s guess how high they will have risen. The 2018 World Cup could prove a vital plotting point on that route.