Ahmad Khalil: Qatari football continues to make great strides on the road to 2022
Standing proudly with memorabilia from his glittering career, Qatar’s legendary goalkeeper, Ahmad Khalil, remembers the moment he was called up to represent his country at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
“There were many great players in the league that season. We were all excited about the prospect of representing Qatar. The day before the announcement was made in the newspaper, I was awake all night due to the excitement,” said Khalil, who famously played for Al Arabi in the Qatar Stars League.
“We had many notable names in the team, and in Barcelona we were all motivated to represent our country at a global level. It was the dream of every team to make it to the Olympics and be part of this beautiful gathering where we were proud to fly the Qatari flag and wear traditional clothes in the opening ceremony,” he added.
Qatar qualified for the Olympics after beating Japan in Asian qualification. During the games, Qatar opened their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Egypt before drawing 1-1 with Colombia. Despite a 2-0 defeat to Spain – who would go on to win the gold medal – Qatar qualified for the quarter-finals. In the last eight, Qatar lost 2-0 to a strong Poland team, who would go on to claim the silver medal.
To Khalil, the tournament showcased Qatar’s talents on a global stage and established the team as an up-and-coming force in Asian football.
“This team gave birth to a new generation of players after the great Qatari team of the ‘80s,” said Khalil. “We played at a level which reflected the pedigree of Qatari football. Everyone played with pride and we were widely supported by the media and fans back home.”
Later in 1992, Khalil would claim the biggest success of his storied career: the 1992 Arabian Gulf Cup. Qatar won the tournament for the first time – and in doing so broke Kuwait and Iraq’s 22-year stranglehold on the competition. After conceding just one goal during the tournament, Khalil was named as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.
Since then, Qatar has made huge strides both on and off the pitch. Success at club and international level has continued over the past 30 years – most notably in the past decade since the country won the rights to host the FIFA World Cup™ in 2022.
Khalil said: “In the 2000s, we started getting noticed at both club and international level. Our style of play entertained fans in Asia and around the world, leading us to the high level of play which we are so proud of today.”
Qatar is now established as one of the best teams in Asia and will go into the World Cup as continental champions after winning the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 2019.
“Our current squad has many stars,” said Khalil. “Winning the Asian Cup was a huge achievement and since then Qatar has performed well in the Copa America and European qualifiers. Playing consistently well at this high level is a great achievement.”
With 16 months to go until Qatar 2022, Khalil is confident of a strong performance from the host nation when it takes part in the World Cup for the first time.
He said: “Qatar will host an amazing World Cup, but what will really amaze people will be Qatar’s performance on the pitch in front of a home crowd. We will surprise many fans around the world.”