Qatar’s team of many nations marches on

By Peter Auf der Heyde, IANS
Monday, January 17, 2011

DOHA - While midfielder Lawrence Quaye was born in the Ghanian capital of Accra and started his career with Liberty Professionals, Sebastian Soria was born in the Uruguayan town of Paysandu and first made a name for himself as a player with Liverpool Montevideo.

What combines the two is that they are team-mates.

That, in itself, would not be anything special, but the team in which they play together is a national team - the national team of Qatar, which Sunday qualified for the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup after beating Kuwait 3-0 in their final group game.

The South American and African players donning the maroon Qatari jersey at the Asian Cup are joined in their team by a host of other nationalities.

Fabio Cesar, for instance, was born in Londrina in Brazil and started playing football for Sao Paulo, before moving to Europe where he played for one of Diego Maradona’s previous clubs, Napoli.

At that time the midfielder no doubt was dreaming of a successful and lucrative career in Serie A, but things unravelled as Napoli ran into financial problems.

The midfielder then moved on to Avellino, who were playing in the lower regions of Italian football, and after just nine games for the club he joined Al-Arabi Sports Club in Qatar in 2005 and has been in the country since then.

Goalkeeper Qasem Abdulhamed Burhan was born in Dakar, Senegal, while his centre-back 24-year-old Mohammed Kasola hails from Kenya.

French coach Bruno Metsu has also called up players born in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait into his squad for the Asian Cup.

However, footballers are not the only athletes that the oil-rich country in the Gulf region has convinced - or attempted to convince - to change nationality to compete under the Qatar flag.

Kenyan 3,000-metre steeplechase runner Stephen Cherono was allegedly paid $1 million to move to Qatar in 2003 and run for the Middle Eastern country, for which he has also won gold at the world championship.

Saif Saaeed Shaheen, as Cherono is now known, was not the first to switch nationality.

The country’s two Olympic medals both came courtesy of athletic imports, with Somali-born runner Mohammed Suleiman winning the bronze in the 1,500 meters in Barcelona in 1992 and Bulgarian born Angel Popov, who competed as Saif Saeed Asaad, taking weightlifting bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

South African swimming Olympic champions Ryk Neethling and Roland Schoeman were reportedly offered several million dollars to turn out for Qatar in Beijing in 2008. Both decided against it.

What makes Shaheen, Suleiman, Asaad and the others’ cases somewhat different from the footballers is that they became Qatari citizens specifically to compete internationally.

With the footballers, that is not necessarily the case.

Like tens of thousands of footballers all over the world, they joined foreign football clubs to earn their living and were then, in most cases after several years in the country, given the opportunity to play internationally for Qatar.

The French national team would be vastly different if they had only French-born players in it, and even countries like Italy and Germany have players in their national teams that were born elsewhere.

Quaye, who played internationally for the Ghana youth team and whose his older brother Abdullah, who plays his club football in the United Arab Emirates and plays for the Black Stars, only opted to play for Qatar last year.

Filed under: Football, Olympic Games, Soccer

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