Following their success at AFC Asian Cup 2019, Qatar are the current kings of the continent but could it be that the foundation was laid four years ago?
After all, it was back then when Qatar were one of Asia’s four representatives at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Granted, they finished bottom of Group C after failing to pick up a single point.
But, just how many players from that team learned from the experience and went on to lead the Qataris to their maiden Asian Cup crown earlier this year?
There are two clear standouts based on their displays at the Asian Cup – Golden Boot winner and record breaker Almoez Ali with nine goals, and Akram Afif, who notched ten assists in eight games.
While both differ in their playing styles and positions on the field, it is hard to imagine a Qatar side without either of them playing a key role for the next decade.
Almoez promises to be one of the most-prolific scorers that Asian football has ever seen while Akram, with his dribbling and creative abilities, looks to have learned aplenty from Spanish legend Xavi at Al Sadd.
Apart from Akram and Almoez, another revelation at the Asian Cup was centre-back Bassam Al-Rawi, who showed maturity beyond his years in a crucial area of the field and also chipped in with two goals.
Assim Madibo was the unsung hero of the triumph, doing the dirty work in the middle of the park to allow his more attack-minded team-mates run riot in the final third, while Tarek Salman is another who looks certain to have a bright future.
Apart from the five players already singled out, there were a further four from the 2015 U-20 World Cup team that were also part of the Asian Cup-winning side earlier in the year.
While he was not exactly a first-choice at United Arab Emirates 2019, Salem Al-Hajri got his fair share of game time and one of two matches in which he started was actually the semi-final victory over the hosts.
With Qatar coach Felix Sanchez Bas satisfied with a settled backline, it was also difficult for Tameem Al-Muhaza to force his way into the starting XI but he has shown enough to suggest he will be involved in the national team setup for years to come.
Meanwhile, given they are both goalkeepers of a similar age, it is impossible that Yousef Hassan and Mohammed Al-Bakri will both establish themselves as Qatar’s No. 1 and will have to battle it out once incumbent Saad Al-Sheeb calls it a day.
Qatar squad – 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup
GOALKEEPERS: Yousef Hassan, Mohammed Al-Bakri, Yazan Naim
DEFENDERS: Tameem Al-Muhaza, Fahad Al-Abdulrahman, Serigne Abdou, Salem Al-Hajri, Sultan Al-Kuwari, Jassem Omar, Sultan Al-Brake, Bassam Al-Rawi
MIDFIELDERS: Abdullah Al-Ahrak, Ahmed Moein, Said Brahmi, Akram Afif, Ahmed Al-Saadi, Abdulrahman Al-Deri, Assim Madibo, Tarek Salman
FORWARDS: Jassem Al-Jalabi, Almoez Ali