DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The golden stadiums are among the most spectacular in the world. The waterfront is sparkling and the skyscrapers are draped in larger than life banners depicting the stars of the World Cup.
Fans gather around big screens throughout the city to watch football along the waterfront in Doha, or at the upscale Pearl Marina. The streets are covered with the national flags of the 32 teams participating in this year’s World Cup, and the restaurants are packed. The same goes for the fan zone, where Colombian singer Maluma performed the day before the opening match.
The only thing missing is a winning team.
Qatar became the first host country in World Cup history to lose the opening game, then only the second host to be knocked out of the group stage. South Africa in 2010 were the first to be knocked out in the group stage, but still had a chance to qualify in their third and final group match.
Not Qatar. This time the host were knocked out after just two games – a 2-0 loss to Ecuador in the World Cup opener and then a 3-1 loss to Senegal – to make Tuesday’s game against the Netherlands insignificant for the Qataris.
A complete flop?
Qatar coach Felix Sanchez says absolutely not.
“I think these players have achieved a lot in the last few years. Now we have to be aware that to compete at this level we are always behind,” Sanchez said the day before the Qatar final. that if we work on it on a daily basis, we will gradually approach this level.
“I don’t feel disappointed or embarrassed,” Sanchez continued. “The World Cup is the most demanding competition, and only a few can be here. We are still a little behind. The country will continue to work so that the next time Qatar participates in a World Cup – hopefully soon – we will be able to compete better than we did this time.
Qatar has spent at least $200 billion on the infrastructure needed to host the world soccer tournament. There is no known figure on what he has spent to build a real team, a business in which Qatar has had 12 years to seek prospects, develop talent and build a team capable of competing with the best. in the world.
The last 26 selected include 16 players born in Qatar. But Qatar’s first-ever World Cup goal was scored by Ghana-born Mohammed Muntari, and the list includes players born in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Iraq and Sudan.
In preparation for the World Cup, Qatar courted other confederations to play against their team in a bid to improve. The team received guest entries to the South American and CONCACAF championships, and played friendlies which were loosely linked to qualifying for the 2020 European Championship. It was all linked to Qatar sponsorship Airways and beIN TV rights.
It was not without controversy: after a 4-0 loss to Qatar in the 2019 Asian Cup semi-finals, the United Arab Emirates protested the eligibility of Sudanese-born Almoez Ali. and Bassam Al-Rawi, of Iraqi origin. The case was dismissed when Qatar presented evidence claiming Ali’s mother was born in the country.
Qatar won the tournament for the first time in their history, beating regional powerhouse Japan in the final.
“To go back 12 years, the vast majority of the Qatari national team were expatriates. Today, the vast majority are Qataris,” said Dr. James Dorsey, deputy senior researcher at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies from Singapore.
“But it’s a small country. It’s a small pool that they can draw from. They are by definition disadvantaged by much larger countries,” he continued. “For those who see it in purely sporting terms, yes, it’s important that they are the first to lose an opening game and crash out in the group stage. I think from a wider perspective, it doesn’t not make a big difference to the government.
Qatar, which only played its first official game in 1970 and has only 300,000 citizens out of a population of 2.9 million, fell short of the World Cup to win the World Cup .
Rather, the tournament aimed to raise the profile of this energy-rich nation like no other event before it.
Qatar’s hope was that the tournament would improve relations with neighboring Saudi Arabia, which only two years earlier had been part of a four-nation boycott of the country. And Qatar has cemented its ties with the West as a cover in case further political unrest comes in the unstable Middle East.
“We knew from the start that it was a long way for Qatar, given their lack of history and where they are,” said Alexi Lalas, a member of the United States team in 1994. and now an analyst at Fox Sports.
“I think they’re looking at that as well because, yeah, that would be nice, but it’s still that publicity to the world,” Lalas added. “Whether their team is in it or not, it’s all about showing the country and obviously they still have many weeks here to do that.”
Qatar will host the Asian Cup football tournament in 2023, the Asian Multisport Games in 2030 and is considering a bid for the 2036 Olympics. The seven new stadiums – controversially built by foreign workers – will be for the most resized after the tournament and the Lusail stadium, where 88,966 spectators watched Argentina beat Mexico last weekend in the biggest crowd in a World Cup match in 28 years, will be revamped into a multi -use the facility.
And despite the early exit from the World Cup, Qatar’s football team is expected to continue to develop and grow, and perhaps even one day compete with powerful teams from the Middle East, including Iran and the United States. Saudi Arabia, who both won group stage matches at this year’s World Cup.
“Of course, as a player, we would have liked the Qatari fans to be proud of us. It was not our destiny to win. But thank God we were at least able to score in the World Cup,” he said. Ali said, “It was our first appearance at the World Cup. We hope it won’t be our last.”
Qatar received an automatic place as hosts to play in this year’s World Cup but will focus on qualifying for future tournaments through their play on the pitch. The next World Cup in North America will grow from 32 to 48 teams and Asia will get eight guaranteed places instead of four, making it easier to qualify for the tournament.
Mohammed Abdulrahim, a Qatari who said he was part of the organizing committee for the opening ceremony of the tournament, said the expectations were too high for the young national team.
“That’s why they lost their chance, don’t forget it’s their first World Cup and in their country. It was too much pressure… we’re still proud,” Abdulrahim said, adding that the Qataris were enjoying the chance to present the country.
“We have a message for everyone: we are people who love peace, we love to make friends. The World Cup for us and for the whole Arab world is a chance to see our face,” he said. “I think you will see the country how safe it is, that’s a point, that’s a goal. Still, we have positive things happening, not negative things happening.
Dorsey said the verdict is in on whether this tournament has achieved all of Qatar’s goals, but even with the disappointment on the pitch the country has made progress.
“I don’t know if the World Cup is a zero-sum game. It’s a major achievement, but it’s not the end of the game,” Dorsey said. “The World Cup in Qatar will have a legacy of social change: working conditions have improved in Qatar. Whether you think they are good or bad, or that enough has been done, is another question. But it’s the only Gulf state with a minimum wage. Could it have been higher? Absolutely.
“The fact is there were a number of other things like that, so there was a social change that probably wouldn’t have happened without the World Cup,” Dorsey continued. “I think at the end of the day, the football team will always be successful. Look at China. Football is extremely important to (Chinese leader Xi Jinping) and he has invested a fortune in it, and they are nowhere In this sense, Qatar is certainly further than the Chinese.”
AP Sports Writer Ron Blum, Ciaran Fahey and Steve Wade in Doha contributed to this report.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports