By Paul Nicholson
September 3 – Qatar will play as a guest nation in the next two editions of the Gold Cup in the US , the blue riband national team event for Concacaf’s member countries, in 2021 and 2023. The Asian Cup Champions are also scheduled to guest at Conmebol’s Copa America in 2021 as they prepare for their own hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
Concacaf announced Qatar’s participation as part of a reshaped Gold Cup competition that for the first time will see a Preliminary Round played as precursor to the Gold Cup proper and which will qualify three teams to the 16 team group stages of the Gold Cup.
For the first time Concacaf will also hold a Gold Cup draw while a major change to the knockout phase will see teams on opposite sides of the draw meet from the quarter finals onwards. Previously teams have only competed against teams on their side of the draw until the final. The draw will be held September 28.
The entry of Qatar into the Gold Cup as a guest in 2021 has developed out of a “longstanding relationship, which was formalized through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in May 2017, has resulted in various joint initiatives which have served to greatly develop football in both regions,” said Concacaf.
It will also logically open the door to further co-operation and knowledge sharing with the 2022 World Cup hosts playing a tournament in the country that will lead on hosting the 2026 World Cup. The strategic partnership between Concacaf, the Qatar Football Association (QFA) and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) will also see the development of a grassroots programme and building on Concacaf’s Next Play Program, and Qatar’s Generation Amazing legacy project.
Qatar will be the second AFC nation to compete as a guest in the Gold Cup, following South Korea who played in the 2000 and 2002 editions.
“As the AFC Asian Champions, they will provide stern opposition for Concacaf teams. The partnership we have entered into with the QFA and SC will be game-changing for the development of football at all levels in our region. It will also provide a great opportunity to share knowledge in a number of areas between the host of the FIFA World Cup 2022, and the region which will host the event in 2026,” said Concacaf president Victor Montagliani.
Commenting on the opportunity of the partnership between the two confederations, AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “When the AFC and Concacaf signed their Memorandum of Understanding in May 2017 we saw the obvious opportunities for both Confederations to help and improve each other both in terms of performances on the field – of teams, players and match officials as well as operations staff – and, just as importantly, the continued development of the game across our Continents.
“Already AFC and Concacaf match officials have enjoyed the experience of controlling matches in different continents with different styles and now Qatar, the Asian Champions, can continue their own knowledge of international football following on from last year’s AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 as well as the Copa America. We are sure everyone will benefit from Qatar’s presence in the competition.”
The importance of preparing a competitive team for 2022 was emphasisesd by QFA president Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani, who said “it will be a great opportunity to help further prepare the national team ahead of their opening World Cup match on 21 November 2022. Winning the 2019 AFC Asian Cup marked an important milestone in our development plan, and so we head into the Gold Cup confident that we can compete with Concacaf’s best teams. We look forward to the competition.”
The wider importance of Qatar’s participation will be to bring profile, support and focus in a new region to the on-going legacy programme that has been an importnat initiative of Qatar’s World Cup hosting preparations. “Generation Amazing is our flagship human and social legacy programme that uses the power of football to create sustainable social development in communities around the world,” said SC Secretary General, H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi.
“Since it was launched in 2009, when Qatar was bidding to host the 2022 World Cup, it has positively impacted the lives of more than 500,000 around the world… Most importantly, this partnership will help ensure a sustainable, lasting tournament legacy in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, well after the last ball is kicked in 2022.”
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