For a relatively young football nation, Qatar has registered some surprising achievements along the way to becoming a FIFA World Cup™ host nation in 2022.
Football first came to the country in the late 1940s, with rapid development starting early the following decade, as Doha Stadium became the first arena of its kind with a grass pitch in the Gulf region. The stadium officially opened in 1962, but competitive amateur games were taking place at the site from the early 1950s.
By 1973, this historic stadium near the iconic Corniche had hosted both legendary boxer Muhammed Ali and FIFA World Cup™ winning legend Pelé, who played with his famous Santos team and wowed the Doha crowds with his skills. It's said that the Brazilian striker picked up his first career yellow card during this match, but the legend remains unconfirmed to this day.
By the end of the 1970s, Qatar had built a new home for its national team in the form of Khalifa International Stadium. Many top international competitions and football games would be held here, lending to its pedigree as a top FIFA World Cup™ host.
By 1981, Qatar had surprised the world with a stunning run to the final match of the Under-20 FIFA World Cup™ in Australia, defeating both Brazil (3-2) and England (2-1) along the way. Qatar's winning goal-scorer in the semi-final, Badr Bilal, remembers the moment he scored a spectacular 'bicycle' kick to defeat England as "undoubtedly the greatest moment of my career".
But Qatar's football rapid development did not stop there. By 1984 they had qualified for their first Olympic Games, drawing 2-2 with France in their opening game of the Los Angeles competition before bowing out in the group stages.
In 1988, Qatar hosted the Asian Cup in football for the first time, and four years later they were making headlines in Spain. The team, led by legendary Brazilian coach Evaristo de Macedo, reached the quarter-finals of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, losing only to eventual finalists Poland in a closely contested 2-0 defeat at Barcelona's legendary Camp Nou stadium.
Later the same year, formidable striker Mubarak Mustafa spurred Qatar on to their first triumph in the Gulf Cup, hosted in Doha and celebrated with much passion by the country's football fans.
Three years later, Qatar once again hosted the best players in the world, for the 1995 FIFA Under-20 World Cup™ in Doha where Argentina and Brazil battled it out in the final for 65,000 spectators. Argentina prevailed, and Qatar was ready to host more of the world's best athletes.
At the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar won the gold medal in football, defeating Iraq 1-0 in the final. In recent years Qatar notched another Gulf Cup win – following an earlier 2004 triumph – by taking the title in Saudi Arabia in 2014.
But it was on 10 December 2010 that the path of the nation's sporting history changed forever, as Qatar was confirmed as the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup™.
And with a promising young generation of Qatari football players from Aspire Academy winning Asia's Under-19 title in 2014, the prospect of more success drives the nation's players and supporters ever forward on the road to 2022.