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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Khalid Muftah -- the boy with 2022 in his sights

DOHA: If everything goes to plan for Khalid Muftah, in 11 years' time he will walk onto the pitch in a stadium in Qatar as a player for the host nation at the Middle East's first World Cup.
Qatari citizens, left, walk next a portrait of Qatar's Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani holding the World Cup trophy, at Souk Wagef, in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday Jan. 16, 2011. Qatar was announced as host for the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament.

By then he will be 29, possibly a seasoned international and potentially one of the elder statesmen in a squad eager to prove that Qatar deserves its place in the global football spotlight.

For now he is a newcomer to the international scene, an 18-year-old left-back with three caps to his name trying to break into Bruno Metsu's first team at the Asian Cup in his homeland.

The youngest member of the squad, the bare fact of Muftah's age means that -- unlike many of his team-mates -- he stands a fighting chance of being there at kick-off in 2022 when the World Cup comes to his country.

"When they announced that Qatar had won the right to host the World Cup, I was excited because I want to play a part," he said.

"Every player dreams of playing in a World Cup and if you play in it, it's the highest thing you can achieve as a football player. It's the first thing every player dreams about.

"When we knew that Qatar had won, each player realised he had a responsibility to push himself more and try to become a part of the 2022 World Cup.

"We are all pushing ourselves and telling ourselves that we have to be there."

Muftah was watching on television last month when FIFA's executive committee announced in Zurich that Qatar had won the right to host football's quadrennial extravaganza.

"I was at my club (Qatari side Lekhwiya), having training. But when they announced it, we were watching to see," he recalls.

"All of the players were shouting and jumping. We were so happy because it's the first time that a country from the Gulf area, and the Arabic area, will organise the World Cup."

A graduate of Doha's famed Aspire Academy, Muftah has first-hand experience of how the country's massive oil and gas wealth has created a world-leading programme for its aspiring young footballers.

He is quick to acknowledge the benefits he has obtained from state-of-the-art facilities and expert tuition from European coaches, but his football background was typical of professional players the world over.

"I used to play with friends in front of the house," says Muftah, who cites Barcelona's Dani Alves and Chelsea's Ashley Cole among his role models.

"We'd make a little space and we'd play in the street."

One of five boys in what he describes as a "very sporty" family, Muftah has two brothers who play futsal (indoor football) and an elder brother at Al Wakra, his former club.

He accepts that Qatar -- ranked 105 in the FIFA world rankings -- does not have a reputation as a footballing hotbed, but says victory in the race to host the 2022 World Cup has shifted the whole country onto a football footing.

"Now that we have won the right to host the World Cup, (football) means more than before," he explains.

"Parents are trying to get their children to join clubs and encourage them to play football. Not just at home or in the street, because they know now that football is growing in Qatar."

Muftah is not indifferent to the hostile reaction witnessed in certain parts of the world to his country's sudden arrival at football's top table, but he believes it is up to the players to prove they are worthy of the World Cup.

"They said that all over the world. But when the time comes, we will show them that we are a good team and I hope we can build a strong team that can at least challenge at the World Cup.

"We have to show the world that Qatar has a good team. Yes, we are a small country, but there is a new team that will develop and we will be better than we are now."

Read more: Khalid Muftah -- the boy with 2022 in his sights - The Times of India