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New exhibition traces Qatar’s football journey

The exhibition, which opened its doors days before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, aims to tell the ‘untold’ story of how football developed in the Gulf country.

Doha, Qatar – An exhibition tracing the history of soccer in Qatar has opened in Doha, as the Middle Eastern country prepares to welcome fans for the World Cup, which kicks off on Sunday.

“The World Cup is coming to Qatar in a few days and we wanted to mark the occasion by organizing this exhibition,” said Aysha al-Ansari, head of the Heritage Collection at the imposing National Library of Qatar, where the exhibition is being held.

“We want to increase the awareness of the public and the visitors who come to our country from all over the world in regards to our football heritage,” he told Al Jazeera. “For certain fans of the game, it is still an untold story.”

In the exhibition, titled “Gooool! How Soccer Began in Qatar”, visitors can walk past large billboards documenting the history of the sport in Qatar, including information on its stadiums, leagues and teams.

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They can also view handmade soccer jerseys once worn by the Maroons, Qatar’s national team, along with decades-old soccer balls, retro boots, and other memorabilia. And they can watch and listen to recordings in which pioneering figures narrate how the love of soccer evolved in the country.

Qatar football exhibition
Qatar played its first World Cup qualifying match in 1977 [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

People in the small, gas-rich nation began playing soccer in the late 1940s, according to exposition organizers. But it wasn’t until 1970 that the country’s national team played its first international match, a 2-1 loss to neighboring Bahrain.

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The Maroons have come a long way since then.

They made 10 Asian Cup appearances, which they won in a huge upset in 2019 by beating four-time winners Japan in the final. Shortly after, the left back Akram Afif, star of the current Qatar team, was crowned the Asian footballer of the year.

Qatar has also won the regional Arabian Gulf Cup three times: 1992, 2004 and 2014. In 2015, the Maroons recorded their biggest victory in history, crushing Bhutan 15-0.

The exhibition pays tribute to legends of the game in Qatar, including Khalfan Ibrahim Khalfan, former national team winger and Qatar 2022 Legacy Ambassador.

“I am very proud that we are hosting the World Cup. It makes me, Qatar and all Arabs proud,” Khalfan told Al Jazeera.

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Qatar football exhibition
[Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

More than one million visitors are expected to visit the country during the tournament which will end on December 18.

“We will show, through a successful tournament, that there is more to our region than the negative things that some people see in the media. There is more to this region than conflict. This World Cup will look very different from the other World Cups. Our unique culture and hospitality will be on display,” Khalfan said.

This will be the first time the football masterpiece has been staged in the Middle East, and the first time Qatar has participated.

The hosts will face Ecuador in the opening game of the tournament on Sunday, before taking on Senegal and the Netherlands.

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At the exhibition, which will run through the World Cup and beyond, guests and dignitaries were optimistic about the Maroons’ chances.

“Qatar will go far in the competition, God willing,” Khalfan said, a hint of a smile spreading across his face.

Qatar Football Expo
The exhibition, which will be open until January 31, is held at the National Library of Qatar. [Sorin/Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

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