The exhibition, which opened its doors a few days before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, aims to explain the ‘unknown’ story of how the game has become in the Gulf country.
Doha, Qatar – An exhibition detailing Qatar’s football history has opened its doors in Doha, as the Middle Eastern country prepares to welcome fans to the World Cup, which kicks off on Sunday.
“The World Cup is coming to Qatar in a few days and we want to celebrate the occasion by holding this exhibition,” said Aysha al-Ansari, head of the Heritage Collection at the Qatar National Library, where the exhibition is being held.
“We want to increase the awareness of people and tourists who come to our country from all over the world about our football heritage,” he told Al Jazeera. “For some fans of the game, it’s still a mystery.”
At the exhibition, titled “Goaaal! How Football Began in Qatar”, visitors can walk past large posters documenting the history of football in Qatar, including information about its stadiums, leagues and teams.
They can also see the handmade football jerseys that the Maroons – Qatar’s national team – used to wear, along with vintage footballs, retro boots and other memorabilia. And they can watch and listen to recordings of pioneers explaining how the love of football changed the world.
People in the small, gas-rich country started playing soccer in the late 1940s, according to the fair’s organizers. But it wasn’t until 1970 that the national team played their first international match, losing 2-1 to neighboring Bahrain.
Maroon has come a long way since then.
They have made 10 appearances in the Asia Cup, which they won in an upset in 2019 by beating Japan who won four times in the final. Shortly after, left winger Akram Afif, who is the star of Qatar’s international team, was named the Asian player of the year.
Qatar has also won the Arabian Gulf Cup three times – 1992, 2004 and 2014. In 2015, the Maroons recorded their biggest win, crushing Bhutan 15-0.
The exhibition honors Qatar’s past sporting legends, including Khalfan Ibrahim Khalfan, former national team champion and Qatar 2022 ambassador.
“I am very proud that we are participating in the World Cup. It makes me, Qatar and Arabs very proud,” Khalfan told Al Jazeera.
More than one million tourists are expected to come to the country for the tournament which ends on 18 December.
“We will show, through a successful competition, that our community has more than the bad things that some people see in the media. There is more to this area than conflict. This World Cup will look very different from other World Cups. Our unique culture and hospitality will be showcased,” said Khalfan.
This will be the first time that the football exhibition will be held in the Middle East, and the first time that Qatar will participate.
The hosts face Ecuador in the opening game of the tournament on Sunday, before facing Senegal and the Netherlands.
At the exhibition, which will be open throughout the World Cup and beyond, visitors and dignitaries were hoping for the Maroons’ fortunes.
“Qatar will go far in the tournament, God willing,” Khalfan said, a smile forming on his face.