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FIFA World Cup: How Qatar built its national football team

Qatar has not shied away from controversy to achieve its football dream.

As the World Cup kicks off November 20, with Qatar taking on Ecuador in the tournament opener, it’s inconceivable that just about ten years ago, the Middle Eastern nation was building its national team, literally from scratch for a tournament of this magnitude.

Without much footballing history or facilities, Qatar upon winning the World Cup bid did not have only infrastructure to invest in but also a national team to build given that as hosts, they would be guaranteed their first ever World Cup appearance.

Qatar realised that they did not merely need to build hotels, stadiums, roads but also a competent team that will not embarrass them in the World Cup.

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Aggressive naturalisation process

Before the World Cup bid was made official, Qatar had already embarked on an aggressive naturalisation process offering citizenship to potential talents that could spur its football imprint.

With lots and lots of money at their disposal, in 2004, in just a space of a week, Qatar tried to naturalise three Brazilian footballers, Ailton, Dede and Leandro. The move infuriated FIFA so much that the world football body decided to amend its rules and added that a player to be eligible must have been a citizen living in that country for not less than 10 years.

Aspire Academy

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After FIFA clipped Qatar’s aggressive naturalisation plan, the royal family founded the Aspire Academy project to train Qatari athletes with the best technology and resources that money could buy. Shortly after, as an offshoot of the academy's soccer program, the Aspire Football Dreams program was launched to uncover youth soccer talent hidden in the farthest-flung villages and outposts in the world.

The program began in 2005 with a handful of camps in sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, it has expanded to Latin America and Southeast Asia.

The academy awarded scholarships to several of the players to study in Qatar thus beating FIFA’s 10-year- residency rule.

The efforts would pay off as Qatar lifted the Arab Cup in 2019.

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The naturalisation process had worked wonders for the Qatar handball team that consisted of foreign athletes.

According to IHF rules, to gain eligibility for a new national team, a player cannot have played for another nation for three years in an official match. This allowed several foreign-born players, including Spanish-born Borja Vidal, Goran Stojanović and Jovo Damjanović from Montenegro, and Bertrand Roiné who previously played for France, to play for the Qatar team at the 2015 world championship.

Qatar also reportedly hired over 600,000 fans to cheer its national team.

Fast forward in the 2020 Arab Cup, Qatar team included 17 naturalised players out of the 23 selected. Indeed, players from Sudan (7 players), Egypt (1 player), Iraq (2 players), Bahrain (1 player), Yemen (2 players), Ghana (1 player) ) and Cape Verde (1 player), appear in the list of players who make up the selection of Qatar. Eight different nationalities in addition to the players of Qatari origin.

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The foreign players naturalized by Qatar were as follows: Goalkeeper: Machaâl Barchem, 23 years old from Sudan. Defenders: Pedro Miguel, 31 (Cape Verde), Mosaab Khadar, 28 (Sudan), Bessam Erraoui, 23 (Iraq), Ismael Mohamed, 31 (Sudan), Abdelkrim Hassan, 28 (Sudan), Assem Madibou, 25 years old (Sudan). Midfielders: Abdelah Al Ahrak, 24 (Yemen), Karim Boudiaf, 31 (Algeria), Boualem Khoukhi, 31 (Algeria), Mohamed Ouaad, 22 (Iraq), Ali Asdallah, 28 (Bahrain), Abdelaziz Hatem, 31 years old (Sudan). Forwards: Akram Affif, 25 (Yemen), Ahmed Aladine, 28 (Egypt), Moaz Ali, 25 (Sudan), and Mohamed Muntari, 27 (Ghana).

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