It was a Swiss B-11. Nevertheless, the victory of the Qatari in Lugano is a huge success. Will the World Cup host be able to compete until 2022?
Mohamed Salah celebrated the historic victory on the substitutes’ bench – not the miracle striker of FC Liverpool, Qatar’s football is not that far. The namesake (but his surname is Elneel) plays for Al Arabi in Doha and has not yet celebrated a success that is anything like the Emirate’s 1-0 win over Switzerland in the Lugano test match.
“My boys are right to celebrate in the dressing room,” said coach Félix Sánchez Bas. No more than 4170 spectators had gotten lost in the Stadio di Cornaredo to see embarrassingly listless World Cup last sixteenists against the selection of the host of the 2022 World Cup.
For Sánchez Bas, however, it was a thunderclap: “This was an opportunity for us to show that we can compete with some of the best players in the world,” said the 43-year-old Spaniard. It was only a few minutes ago that Akram Afif had finished a very elegant counterattack in the 86th minute. First a climber, then he put the ball past the goalkeeper and pushed in casually. The man, whose last name is read backwards for fun, celebrated the winning goal for number 96 in the world rankings against number eight with a jump over the rail.
Something had been shaken, as could be seen from the horror of the losers. The “Katarstrophe” was reported in the Swiss media on Thursday, “sackcloth weak” was the idea, a fiasco, an oath of revelation. After all, with Fabian Schär, Granit Xhaka, Michael Lang, Haris Seferovic or Xherdan Shaqiri, regulars of coach Vladimir Petkovic had also been in action at least temporarily.
For Qatar it was a step on the way to their declared goal. “We have a young team and we are growing together,” said Sánchez Bas, who once played for FC Barcelona. “These games enable us to reach the level we need. The expensive World Cup in the desert, which will open on 21 November 2022 and cost 23 billion euros, should not end in embarrassment.
Fifa, the international football association, recently blocked a path to competitiveness. Players will not be allowed to change associations like clubs, a request from Cape Verde, supported by Qatar, was rejected. In 2015, Qatar created a multinational world-class team for the Handball World Championship in its own country, which even reached the finals (and at Austria’s expense). A year later, at the Olympic Games in Rio, the Serb, Bosnian, Montenegrin, French and Cuban-born team had already finished in the quarter-finals against the later bronze medal winners from Germany.
In football, the Emirate has to follow other paths. Switzerland presented Qatar with an interesting offer, which also included a “return match” before the home World Cup. In addition, the country is trying to spread the few talents it has with a financial tailwind in Europe. The success is small. In the Belgian branch AS Eupen, run by the ultra-modern athletes’ forge Aspire Academy Doha, the Qatari talents have not played since their promotion to the Jupiler Pro League. Scorer Akram Afif belongs to FC Villarreal, but is on loan to his home country. There is no such thing as an international player, let alone a legionnaire in a halfway respected league.