The Qatar national team continued to show progression at this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Have you been impressed with their development?
The Qatar national team is doing unbelievably well. They went over to the Gold Cup and played some incredible games. I think they were unlucky not to beat the USA in the semi-final. They missed a penalty and conceded late in the game, but the progression is there for all to see.
They are improving so much so I am very impressed, especially as we continue to build up to their participation as the host nation at next year’s World Cup. I’m really looking forward to watching this group of players compete at next year’s tournament, where I think they will impress the rest of the world with their level – and have the potential to secure some positive results.
Qatar will play Serbia and Portugal in this month’s UEFA FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers. How important are games like this for Qatar as they prepare for next year’s World Cup?
I think it’s unbelievably important because the Qatar team and their coach Felix Sanchez will be able to measure themselves against some top European teams and see what level is needed [during the World Cup]. They will learn which areas they need to raise their game, whether that be their speed of play or tactics. I think they have showed already against other opponents that they are ready to compete at this level, but these games will only improve the team so I think it’s great that they will get this experience.
From your experience, what is football culture like in Qatar? Has it changed much since your days as a player?
Qatar is crazy about football. Not only local football and the Qatar Stars League – but the locals follow club leagues from all over the world. Football is the biggest sport in Qatar, so it is possible to watch almost every league on TV, so if you talk to a Qatari, they know basically all the important games coming up, the standings and the best players, so a full knowledge of world football. And as a player myself, I’ve seen that passion when I was there, especially when I was walking on the streets or in a shopping mall for example.
People would always approach me to chat about football and my most recent game. I’ve seen the national team playing at home and they always have a full stadium. So, the Qataris are really supporting their own boys, so that’s great to see. People will get to see this passion for themselves in 2022 of course when they host the first World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world.
What can fans expect when they reach Qatar in 2022? Do you have any advice for those considering travelling next year?
I think they can expect an amazing tournament that will be the most compact in history, making it easier than ever for fans to watch more live football. The fans are really going to feel that there is a World Cup going on as they will be in the heart of the action throughout. They will feel the festivity and all the vibration of the World Cup from close range, and I think that this is something that has never happened before at the tournament.
They will also experience different cultures from all over the world together in one place. For me, that is what makes the World Cup so special, the fact that it is a global celebration. Everybody will be welcome in Qatar, people from every background, culture and religion. For me that’s the beauty of the World Cup and the most precious thing. I think after the World Cup, every fan will leave Qatar with a happy face and some with a different opinion of the place than before. I think the world will see that it is a welcoming country, with a great culture, and a place they would love to come back to with their kids. I am 100% sure of that.
I have lived in Qatar for many years and people do not need to worry about things such as women being treated differently or people not being able to drink alcohol as this is not the case. Everything is possible in Qatar. Of course, as when you visit any new country, you must respect the culture and traditions of the country you are in and Qatar is no different in this regard. But there will be plenty of things for fans to do and enjoy while in Qatar, and this includes enjoying the hospitality of the Qatari people.