Former Oman goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi is looking forward to the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Image Credit: FIFA

Former Omani goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi had a successful career for club and country that featured many top competitions, with the notable exception of the FIFA World Cup.

The 2022 tournament in Qatar is set to kick off in less than 100 days and it will be the first event to feature more than one team from the Gulf region, something Al Habsi sees as special and a source of pride.

“We’re proud to see Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the World Cup. I’m proud as a footballer and a sportsman in general. We’ve never seen this before and that shows how football has improved in our region,” he said.

Good football

“We’re used to seeing Saudi Arabia at the World Cup; they play good football, and they have some good players who have experience and have shown the self-belief and passion needed to improve,” he added.

“For me, this edition of the World Cup will be exceptional, not only for Saudi Arabia or Qatar, but for all the Gulf countries, including Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait. For the fans, it will be close to us, and this has already been shown by [the sale of] tickets. Millions of people want to come to Qatar. They know it’s going to be a special edition and we’ve seen this in the stadiums and the country in general. Everything will be perfect.”

The moment Qatar was announced as the 2022 host nation was special for Al-Habsi, who felt immediately confident of the country’s ability to deliver an exceptional edition of the global showpiece.

“I was in a house in Bolton with friends and family. I remember I was playing in the Premier League at the time and the atmosphere was exceptional. Many players and fans were asking what the World Cup would be like in Qatar, and that was 12 years ago. From the moment FIFA made the announcement, we were confident it would be one of the best editions ever,” he explained.

Close stadiums

“How the stadiums have been built and the compact nature of the tournament shows that it will be a different experience, not only for fans who will be watching from the stands, but for those outside as well. Previously, we’ve always had fans traveling [long] distances from one stadium to another, which cost them money, but in Qatar it will be one month in one place. The stadiums are close to each other, so it will be outstanding.”

With the 100-days-to-go milestone reached just over a week ago, Al-Habsi still cannot believe how quickly the time has gone. “I can’t believe there are less than 100 days to go. We’ve been waiting for more than 11 or 12 years and were asking when it would be played, but now there are less than 100 days left. As a fan, I think it will be a very competitive tournament. Great players and well-known teams will face each other, but we believe that our Arab teams will do better this time around,” the Omani said.

“Qatar as hosts will enjoy massive support and Saudi Arabia, being very close to Qatar, will have an enormous advantage as well. It will be a great occasion for the rest of the teams. Morocco, Tunisia and all the Arab teams participating in the World Cup will receive considerable support. Because of the Arab players, I will be among the fans. As a player, I dreamed of playing in the World Cup. I participated in huge tournaments, the English Premier League and the UEFA Europa League, alongside many stars, but believe me, being in the World Cup is special. I’m proud to be a part of this World Cup.”