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Qatari fans wave the flag prior to their team's Asian Cup match against China in Doha on Tuesday. All of Qatar are in a buoyant mood after their nation clinched the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Qatari fans wave the flag prior to their team's Asian Cup match against China in Doha on Tuesday. All of Qatar are in a buoyant mood after their nation clinched the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar is on the world's sporting map now

Qatar is now a name on the lips of millions of sports fans after the country won the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

While studying at the University of Utah, Ibrahim Hassan had a difficult time explaining where Qatar, his home country, was.

Few of his college friends knew much about the tiny Gulf state with a population of around 1.7 million, of whom only 350,000 are nationals.

Hassan said: "When I was studying in the United States they would always ask me, 'Where is Qatar? Where is Qatar?'"

An announcement on December 2, 2010 helped change that. Qatar now is a name on the lips of millions of sports fans after the country won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, beating rival bids from sporting heavyweights such as the US and Australia.

"Everyone is going to hear about Qatar now," Hassan said. "Now I can say we are going to host the 2022 World Cup. We won the bid ahead of the US, so I joke about it with my American friends."

Hassan, who got his college degree last year, conceded he had not been confident of Qatar winning the bid ahead of the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea. He watched the live telecast at home with family and friends, nervously waiting for the announcement.

"It was a very emotional moment," he said. "I still get the goose bumps. I was at home, sitting with my friends in the majlis, watching the telecast. We were just waiting for the announcement to see who is going to win. To be honest, I did not expect Qatar is going to win.

"At the moment, we were really tense and we wanted Qatar to win. When they won, we went crazy, all of us. Me, my little sister and brother, we were running around the house like crazy. We were so happy."

Amin Fouad, 19, also remembers the moment and the night-long celebrations that followed all across Qatar.

"It was awesome," he said. "I went out with my friends and family to the beach, and we celebrated there. We had a very big party.

"The streets were filled with people, Qataris and non-Qataris both. All of them had come out on the streets, waving the flag. That is one night I will never forget."

Both Hassan and Fouad are expecting the country to change beyond recognition over the next 11 years.

Qatar's bid promised nine new stadiums, including the 86,000-capacity Lusail Stadium that will stage the opening ceremony and the final, as well as renovations to three existing grounds. The cost: US$3 billion (Dh11bn).

A $25bn rail network will take shape over the next five years and visitors to the 2022 World Cup will be welcomed at a new, $11bn airport. An additional $20bn will be spent on roads.

"This is going to be really good for Qatar, for the economy, because it is going to open new opportunities for businesses and jobs," Abdulaziz al Anezi, a student, said. "I hope it is going to bring the best in Qatar, for the Qatari and Arab people, and for the Islamic world.

"It will present a different picture of the Islamic and Arab world than what we usually see."

Ahmad al Sharqi agrees. The Doha businessman is looking forward to the upcoming boom.

"There will be lots of changes," he said. "New buildings will be coming, new roads, new infrastructure. Many people will be coming here from around the world and hopefully they will go back to their home countries with a positive opinion about Qatar.

"We will also have the opportunity to meet new people, know them, even make some good friends. The people will know that Arab people and countries are not bad."

That message has been conveyed in part through the ongoing Asian Cup, but Juma Khames, of the local police, believes this tournament is just the start of Qatar's journey towards 2022.

"We are very proud to host the Asian Cup," he said as he celebrated Qatar's 2-0 win over China that kept alive their hopes in the tournament.

"But, of course, this is just the beginning because we are going to host the 2022 World Cup."

Qatar face Kuwait tonight, knowing a win will see them qualify for the quarter-finals from Group A, along with Uzbekistan.

Should Qatar lose or draw then China, who face the Uzbeks, can qualify if they better the hosts' result.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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