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Qatar desperate for World Cup breakthrough
Gas-rich but success-starved Qatar believe they can build a football team good enough to qualify for a first World Cup before they controversially stage the tournament's 2022 edition.
The tiny Gulf state came close to reaching the 1998 global showpiece, but were denied by neighbours Saudi Arabia on an agonising final day of qualifying.
The country then suffered a series of familiar failures until they hit the jackpot when FIFA sensationally awarded them the 2022 finals, where they will be certain of featuring as hosts.
"The aim is to participate at a World Cup before 2022," said Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmad Al-Thani, the president of the Qatar Football Association.
That may be easier said than done for a country which will spend billions of dollars on building air-conditioned stadia to combat the dangers of playing in summer temperatures which can climb to a boiling 50 degrees.
At the moment, Qatar's national team stands at 95 in the FIFA rankings, sandwiched between Lithuania and Botswana, but are hopeful of making the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 finals.
"Today, Qatar feels capable," said former Algerian international Ali Benarbia, who works as an advisor for the QFA.
"The fact that one of their clubs, Al Sadd, has just won the Asian Champions League has created a lot of confidence. The national team also believes that they can do it."
Football in Qatar continues to be dominated by highly-paid foreign talent.
A Brazilian, Sebastiao Lazaroni handles the national team while 14 of the country's 15 first division clubs are coached by foreigners.
Furthermore, former Italy coach Marcello Lippi, a World Cup winner, and ex-Spanish boss Luis Aragones have both headed-up lucrative coaching clinics in the country.
Frenchman Djamel Belmadi, the coach of league champions Lekhwiya, first arrived in the Gulf state as a player in 2003.
He believes that the game in the country has improved dramatically in that period.
"Al Sadd are Asian champions but they are only in mid-table in the Qatari championship. That's a sign of its strength and quality," he said.
Qatar are also not afraid of bringing in foreign-born players.
In their last World Cup qualifier against Bahrain, Brazilian-born defender Marcone Amaral Costa was in the starting line-up while Uruguayan-born Sebastian Soria, a fellow naturalised Qatari, was on the bench.
Despite the money lavished on players and infrastructure, many league matches are watched by just a smattering of fans.
"The grounds are almost empty," said Belmadi. "That's mostly because of the heat but you can still feel the pressure to get a result. Foreigners who come to Qatar come for the money and do not stay long."
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