Qatar will make sweet World Cup music, claims Ognenovski


The first modern-day FIFA World Cup where fans can attend two matches in the same day is just 1,000 sleeps away - and Qatar 2022 might just produce some of the finest football of any.

That’s the contention of former Australia defender Sasa Ognenovski, who spent two seasons in the Qatar Stars League, and knows a little of what will await the 32 nations in the tiny Gulf State.

With the tournament taking place in November and December to avoid the insufferable summer heat of the Middle East, Ognenovski sees a positive spin off as players arrive mid-season brimming with energy and invention.

“You’re not going to be getting players burnt out from a season of 60 games,” he said.

“You’ve had Lionel Messi after he’s played 65 games and scored 70 goals and he’s thinking, ‘oh great it’s the end of the season, oh s***, hang on, I’ve still got a World Cup to play’.

“If Messi is still running around in 2022 he and all the other stars will be a lot fresher because it’s still at the halfway point of their seasons.

“They might go back tired to their clubs but that’s not the focus.

“We’ll get the best of them - and that’s not always been the case because of both physical and mental fatigue.”

Qatar is being transformed into an eight-stadium football mega-village for the main event, and Ognenovski believes it will be unique in more ways than one.

“For the football purist it will be great because of the close proximity of the stadiums (two of which are now almost complete).

“The furthest ground is about 40 minutes out of Doha and they’ll all be connected by the expanded metro system, which they were already building when I was there.

“There’s been a lot of talk and conjecture about how they were awarded the tournament in the first place (with Australia among those who missed out).

“But as football people I think we have to maybe move on from what they did and didn’t do to win the bid.

“FIFA aren’t going to change anything and we need to embrace it and judge the event itself. And we can do that after the fact.

“We’ll be able to assess whether it was successful or maybe a bit artificial.”

Either way, It will certainly be different.

Qatari authorities claim to be spending up to $650 million each week on World Cup related projects, with an overall spend of $8 billion.

Yet 2010 Asian player of the year Ognenovski, who was at Umm-Salal between 2012 and 2014 in Qatar Stars League, isn’t sure how many locals will actually attend games, believing that might be mainly the domain of visiting fans.

“They’ll be welcoming of outsiders and are friendly, pretty easy going people,” he added.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of them take holidays while the tournament is on.

“They love football but don’t like going to games. They’d rather watch them in air conditioned comfort.

“When I was there, they even rescheduled one of our fixtures so they could all watch El Classico between Real Madrid and Barcelona on TV.

“We’d be at our stadium playing, and the sheiks would be watching the game on their lounges (elsewhere in the complex).”

Moving the tournament from summer to winter was non-negotiable, Ognenovski believes.

“When they won the bid, I knew they could only stage it in the cooler months because June-July is simply unbearable with the (45 degree plus) heat,” he added.

“In November, you’ll have the ideal temperature of around 25 degrees, not too humid and nice and dry.”

Qatar, winners of last year’s AFC Asian Cup, have spent big on the field as well as off it, with the country’s lavishly funded Aspire Academy hoovering up and honing talent from around the world.

“They’ve spent a heap of money on junior development and bringing in coaches, technical directors and setting up the latest curriculums,” said Ognenovski.

“Everything is over the top but you’re now seeing a generation of players there who are able to compete against really good opposition and excel.

"Their Asian Cup campaign was outstanding. They looked amazing.

“How far they get and how they handle the pressure of a World Cup on home soil will be interesting to see.”

The level of professionalism has jumped expediently, according to Ognenovski, in terms of the smaller details like diet and preparation for matches.

“When I was there we were eating feasts pre-match - there was Coke on the table and lamb. I think that will have changed now with the newer generation coming through.

“It’s not something they’ve paid too much attention to in the past.

“In my time they called us the ‘professionals’ and they were ‘amateurs’, there to make up the numbers whilst we were there to make a difference.

“I think that’s changing as well. They’re starting to produce players as good as the foreigners they’ve been bringing in.”