It's Me Against the World

Many voices were criticizing the fact that Qatar has participated in the 2019 Copa America.

They had many reasons why. Money, corruption and of course the 2022 World Cup construction casualties, were coming back again and again before the first game of the Qataris in the tournament.

Practically, the world is against Qatar in recent years, and for different reasons. Their neighbours, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imposed a blockade against them, accusing Qatar of funding terrorist organisations.

Besides, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has tried to lure the country's most significant project - the World Cup - with a call for expansion it to 48 teams competition that will include other nations in the Middle East. The US has its most significant navy base in the region in Qatar and still, let every other country to bash it all over the place.

The spirit of these things had got into the 'football language' when it came to Qatar. After all, it is hard to neglect such a background.

Here's an unpopular opinion: these reasons might have maybe a lot to do with Qatar as a country, but they have nothing to do with Qatar as a football team, and as a football nation. It's quite the opposite way actually.

A few months back, millions in Asia saw Qatar cause a huge upset and win the Asian Cup in the UAE. The Annabi did it while their fans were not allowed to attend the matches or enter the UAE, Emirati and Saudi fans were booing their anthem and later on, even throwing shoes at them when they crashed the home team 4-0 in the semifinal.

When Qatar went all the way and have beaten Japan in the final, it was already a fact that after years of development, the tiny maligned country, is slowly developing into an exciting football project.

But when it was announced that Qatar will play, together with Japan, in the Copa America - these voices of criticism came. They mocked Qatar for using the money to prepare for the 2022 World Cup, almost neglecting the fact that Japan is there too - in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Historically, CONMEBOL already hosted an Asian country in the past - Japan in 1999 - and is hosting every term two national teams from CONCACAF.

But drop it. You can understand it. It is quite weird to think of a Middle Eastern team in the South American football championship. Also, the fact that Qatar Airways is one of the official sponsors of CONMEBOL made the whole move look bad.

But if we put that aside for a short moment, and look only the footballing side of things, Qatar's participation in the Copa America was a great success.

It might have started poorly with a quick deficit against Paraguay, but then Felix Sanchez' players completed a great comeback and finished with a lucrative draw. It continued with a tight battle with Colombia where the quality and level gaps were screaming, and yet, Qatar held until the very last few minutes of the game, and could have been finishing with another draw unless James Rodriguez decided to pass this magical ball to Duvan Zapata.

Even against Argentina - Qatar maybe opened the match poorly again, and in a bit of a shock - but all in all, they did not fell of their legs entirely. They didn't embarrass themselves. They even got a couple of chances that with a bit more concentration could have gone in, and the whole story was different now. Both for Qatar and Argentina.

The fact that for a few days people asked themselves if Argentina can win this improving Qataris says a lot about Argentina - but at the same time, it means a lot about Qatar.

Look at the numbers. Qatar possessed 60% against Paraguay. 28% against Colombia and 40% against Argentina. They had 14 shots towards the goal in three matches altogether, and they were aggressive as it gets. Except for two shaky moments at the beginning of the games against Paraguay & Argentina, in their first ever official competitive matches against South American national teams - Qatar stood well, fought and tried their best.

Felix Sanchez and his staff still have a lot of work to do, but this Copa America was a great test for this Qatari national team and for Qatari football. People can write against Qatar as much as they want, but the truth is Qatar is a new football power in the making.

After investing in youngsters in one of the best academies in the world (ASPIRE), now we see the first results. An Asian Cup, and a positive experience in the Copa America are significant achievements for this young squad, and they are necessary steps towards a decent campaign in 2022. But in fact, this Copa America was more than that.

If in the UAE, Qatar showed Asia the fruit of their professional work in recent years, in this Copa America, they showed the world that they can play competitive football. For real. They are not the best, of course, they are not playing in the most mesmerizing way, and it's obviously not enough - but - they play. As equals.

The fact that people even doubted that Argentina, bad as they are at the moment, can win against Assim Madibo, Akram Afif & Almoez Ali - is mind-blowing. These guys looked in the eyes of Colombia, and moreover - of Argentina. Of Leo Messi.

Qatar’s progress in football is an impressive achievement by all means. They work hard to develop the first real generation of football professionals, and it's great to see. The work that Sanchez has put in this bunch of academy kids is unique and inspiring, and the future is bright for them. They won't be eliminated in the group stage in 2022. That's for sure.

And they are doing it, while the whole world is against them.