November 05, 2020

The Qatari National Football Teams Road to Success

From its humble introduction as a pastime for expatriate oil workers, culminating in hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022, Qatar’s journey from football wilderness to hosts of the greatest sporting event on earth has included a host of noteworthy milestones and achievements.

The Beginning

Qatar's footballing foundations were laid in the late 1940s. Football began in the country as a leisure activity enjoyed by workers in the oil-rich industrial area of Dukhan. It was these expatriate workers who can claim to be the first to play football on Qatari soil. Competitive football soon became a popular distraction, and local matches were organised between expats and locals.

With increasing interest among the local people, especially the youth, there soon became a need to organise official teams to play recognised matches. As such, the first official Qatari football club was established in 1950, under the name 'Al-Najah', later becoming the current QNB Stars League team Al Ahli.

In 1951, the first football tournament began, named the 'Izz Al-Din Championship' and supported by the Qatar Oil Company. This marked the beginning of Qatari industry-sponsored football - this enthusiasm to associate with football continues to this day with several large corporations supporting the World Cup preparations.

Qatar’s association with football may be relatively short but it has been fervent. Read more about the nation’s relationship with the game in our 70 Years of Football Fever article.

Image: Noushad Thekkayil/

Professional Football in Qatar

In 1960, the Qatar Football Association (QFA) became accepted as the official governing body for football in the country. The QFA oversaw a season of fixtures in 1963–64. However, the first officially recognised season started in 1972, with matches played at the Doha Sports Stadium. This stadium can claim to be the first in the country to use a grass football pitch and the venue of a friendly match between World Cup legend Pele’s Santos side and Qatari side Al Ahli in 1973.

Al Estaqlal, now known as Qatar Sports Club (SC), were the first winners of the league title, 1972-73, while Al Sadd, founded in 1969, is the most successful club, lifting the trophy on fourteen occasions to date. Al Sadd is also the current defending champion in the 12-team QNB Stars Leagues* – the highest standing league in Qatar.

(*as of 2020)

Image: Ahmed Hamid/

International Football Highlights

Youth Squads

Against all expectations, Qatar surprised the world of youth football by reaching the final of the 1981 Under-20 FIFA World Cup in Australia. This achievement certainly raised eyebrows within the football world, and unexpectedly announced Qatar to the world game.

Along the way to the final, Qatar defeated Brazil (3-2), a team featuring many future World Cup stars. They also beat England (2-1), a team containing players that have since reached the highest level of club football with Manchester United and West Ham.

Despite losing to West Germany in the final, the team coached by Brazilian, Evaristo de Macedo, earned kudos and respect with a style of play founded on Brazilian traditions of exciting, attacking football. A point proved by Badr Bilal's stunning scissor kick, which secured victory over England in the semifinals. The goal was a major highlight of the tournament and is remembered as one of the competition's best.

From that point, the future of Qatari football looked very promising indeed. And, although an equal placing in a world youth competition is yet to be eclipsed, the 1981 team certainly placed Qatar as credible contenders for future success.

In 1995, Qatar hosted the FIFA World Youth Championships, where 65,000 spectators packed into the Khalifa Olympic Stadium to see the opening game to witness a 1-1 draw with Russia. While Qatar never made it past their Group Stage on this occasion, it is interesting to note that the tournament saw Spain and Real Madrid legend Raul play his first football match on Qatari soil. Raul later became a Real legend, representing the team a record 735 times and scoring over 300 goals for Los Blancos. Raul returned to Qatar in 2012 playing for Al Sadd, where he won the league and Emir Cup in the latter stages of his career.

Image: 1981 Under-20 FIFA World Cup in Australia,

Arabian Cup Winners

The Qatar National Team announced itself to the football world as early as 1970, taking part in the first Arabian Cup alongside neighbours Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and hosts Bahrain. Despite losing their first match 2-1 to the hosts, Mubarak Faraj secured his name in Qatari folklore by scoring a stunning strike and netting a fitting debut goal for his country. Qatar had to wait a further six years to record their first international victory when they thumped Oman 4-1.

Since the inauguration of the tournament, Qatar has won the Arabian Cup on three occasions, lifting the trophy in 1992, 2004, 2014. The 1992 victory was especially poignant as it was as hosts that Qatar proved to be the strongest of the six teams in a simple round-robin format. During this particular era, Sebastião Lapola’s impressive side achieved their highest FIFA rating, becoming the 53rd ranked team in the world. The bulk of this history-making young squad included many players who reached the quarter-finals of the Barcelona Olympics months earlier.

Image: Opening The 22nd Arabian Gulf Cup, Saudi Arabia vs Qatar in King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2014, by
على المزارقه
, cropped,
CC BY-SA 4.0

FIFA World Cup Qualifying

The Qatari National Team arguably reached its peak in the 1990s and early 2000, narrowly missing out on three World Cup qualifications in 1990, 1998 and 2001.

Qatar heartbreakingly missed out on qualification to France 1998, after reaching the final round of Asian Zone final qualifying competition. On the way, Qatar beat Iran and China and only needed a victory in the final match to gain a place, but unfortunately, they lost to local rivals Saudi Arabia 1-0.

Again in 2001, Qatar reached the final qualifying rounds of the Asian Zone, but this time it was China who pipped them to the post and made it to the World Cup in Japan in 2002.

The current national team will include many players who will take to the pitch in the 2022 World Cup, get the latest player bio and stats information in our Getting to Know the Annabi Boys article.

Recent Achievements

In recent times, 2014 was one of the most successful years for Qatari football. The U-19 Qatar team became Asian champions when a Felix Sanchez-mentored team beat DPR Korea 1–0, lifting the trophy for the first time. Also this year, the senior squad won both of the West Asia Football Federation Cup and the Gulf Cup championships. Again under the guidance of Felix Sanchez.

It is under the visionary leadership of Sanchez that Qatar has found the consistency in style and youthful confidence to progress to the highest-ranked nation in the region - and the fifth in Asia. The rate of progress made Qatar the highest climber in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World ranking in 2019.

Image: 2019 AFC Asian Cup Final, Mehr News Agency, photo by Hadi Abyar, cropped,
CC BY 4.0

Qatar's recent ascent in the world of football is not an overnight feat, but rather a result of the country's ambitious vision and commitment to ensuring the sustainable growth of the sport within Qatar. This vision and commitment are mainly realised through the country's sporting institute, Aspire Academy - an institute dedicated to finding and nurturing youth talent. However, Qatar's National Team not only has the foundations of a strong youth policy due to Aspire's development programmes, but also thanks to Sanchez's education at Barcelona's legendary La Masia - the world's most famous football academies for young players.

Image: Paul Cowan/

Asian Champions 2019

Qatar's commitment towards developing sports through Aspire, and Sanchez's commitment and trust in his young players, certainly paid off in the 2019 Asian Cup. Arguably the toughest of all competitions yet to involve Qatar. Their triumph against strong opposition proved many doubters wrong and announced them as a credible team going into the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar's convincing performances not only made light of sound competitors but instilled a much-needed sense of national pride at a time of regional political crisis.

The tournament was held in UAE, and due to the crisis, Qatar's supporters were not permitted to enter the country, leaving the team with very little support in the stadiums and a challenging atmosphere in their preparations and on the pitch. Qatar beat all of its competitors, with a clean sheet, on their way to the final, including Saudi Arabia 2-0 and the UAE 4-0. This set up a final against Japan who had won the competitions in the four previous tournaments, spending 16 years as reigning champions. The Japanese side also had a youthful look to it, but it was Qatar who held their nerve early in the game, scoring two goals before half time. A reply from Japan in the second half wasn't enough to knock Qatar off their stride, and they sealed their victory with an 83rd-minute penalty from Akram Afif to ensure celebrations on the streets of Doha.

As confirmation that all Qatar's faith in youth had proved worthwhile, it was the penalty scorer Afif who received the man-of-the-match award. A graduate of Aspire and current star player for Al Sadd, Afif was a Doha born player who graduated through Aspire's ranks before spells in Europe.

Image: Barnuti Daniel loan/

Notable Coaches

Starting from Taha Toukhi, the team's first coach in 1969, to the current manager Felix Sanchez Bas, each coach has contributed in one way or another to moving Qatar's footballing dreams forward.

Historically, Qatar has hired more coaches from Brazil than any other countries, with 12 out of the total 38 taking the reins from arguably the greatest footballing nation.

The most influential coach is undoubtedly the current coach - Sanchez, who delivered the highly coveted continental trophy, the Asian Cup. At the same time, Brazil's Macedo is regarded as the father of Qatar's modern football for his role building the foundation of a footballing style, and leading the country to its first international breakthrough in Australia in 1981.


Macedo also holds the record as the longest-serving coach (1979–84) as well as being one of only two coaches to have handled the team on three different occasions - the other being his compatriot Dino Sani. Macedo was in charge from 1979–84, 1984–85 and then 1992 after a brief break in 1984 with Ronald de Carvalho taking charge in a caretaking capacity. Sani meanwhile, was at the helm of affairs in 1985–86, 1989-1990 and 1990-1992.

Four Qataris have had the honour of coaching the team. Mohammed Daham in 1988 was the first Qatari to be awarded the role. Others include Abdul Mallalah (1993), Saeed Al Misnad (2004, caretaker) and Fahad Thani (2013–14).

Felix Sanchez is one of Qatar’s most successful football managers, get to know a bit more about his time with the National Team in our Knowing Sanchez news article.

Main Image: Qatar vs Japan, 2019 AFC Asian Cup final, Mehr News Agency, photo by Hadi Abyar, cropped,
CC BY 4.0

Published: April 21, 2020
Last updated: November 05, 2020
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