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‘It’s an honour to be here’: Xavi on a mission to give Qatar a team to be proud of

The Spain legend is seen as central to emirate’s efforts to improve the national side in time for the 2022 World Cup

The gulf between Qatar’s rank in the global football hierarchy and its vaulting, nation-building project to host the World Cup in 2022, is illustrated by the record of its national team. The “supreme committee” organising the World Cup makes the most of celebrating Qatar’s football history, which is a fascinating example of sports having been taken all around the world by British and European workers – here, in the oil and gas industries. Replicating a worldwide phenomenon, local people in the colonies or trading countries were introduced to sports, and clubs were formed on the European model.

It was only in 1970, the year of Brazil’s third World Cup triumph in the celebrated Mexico tournament lit up by Pelé, that Qatar even established a national team at all. That was a year before the country gained independence, under the rule of the al-Thani dynasty, from its status as a British protectorate. When its World Cup bid team, chaired by Sheikh Mohammed, the son of the then emir (ruler) Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, claimed the famous Fifa vote in December 2010, Qatar became the first country since 1934 to host a World Cup without ever having qualified for one.

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