Carles Puyol played his 100th game for the Spanish senior team penultimate Wednesday in Doha, Qatar against Uruguay in an international friendly. The Barcelona and La Furia Roja player even scored (but disallowed) in the 3-1 demolition of the South American champions to celebrate his milestone.
The 34-year-old defender is the seventh Spanish national player to reach the 100 caps mark for the European and world champions.
Puyol, who is just returning to full fitness after been injured and missed the 2012 European Championships last summer, was at home playing in Doha. The reason is simple: Barcelona is hugely popular team in that Middle East country! The attendance at the match played at the 50,000-capacity Khalifa International Stadium in Doha attested to the love Qataris have for the La Liga giants.
Almost all the seats were taken and the frenzy that greeted the names of Barcelona and Real Madrid players when introduced at the start of the game showed that they are well loved in Qatar.
Except for the unavoidable absence of influential Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and goalkeeper Ike Casillas, all the top stars were on parade. From Victor Valdes in goal to Puyol, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Mata, Sergio Ramos, Busquet and Pique, it was the usual La Furia Roja army on parade.
The Uruguayans were no less worthy opposition. As champions of South America, they also had in their strike force star players like-Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan and Edilson Cavani.
The match which also marked Spain's 18-match unbeaten run that stretches back to November 2011, is just one of the several high-profile friendlies lined up by the Qatar Football Federation to sensitize the global football family to the silent revolution currently going on in the Beautiful Game in that country.
Before the Spain, Uruguay game, Qatar had similarly hosted other high profile friendly matches including Brazil vs England in 2009, Argentina vs Brazil in 2010 and Egypt vs Brazil in 2011.
The Khalifa Stadium, represents an iconic symbol of what the Qataris are trying to achieve in the years leading up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup they got the hosting right in 2010.
In the words of the President of the Qatar Football Federation, Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Thani; "We are building a sporting legacy for the future generations in the years leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup."
Interestingly, the Qataris are not leaving things to chances despite having two World Cups between now (Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018) and when they will have the opportunity to host the world in nine years time.
"All the games have been well received and hugely well attended that have contributed towards creating fantastic atmospheres and a bringing together of people from all nationalities. This has demonstrated yet again the appetite for top-class football in Qatar and the Middle East," stressed the Qatar FA president.
Since winning the right to the 2022 edition three years ago at the expense of the United States of America, Australia, South Korea and Japan, Qatar has not faltered in the programme laid out to deliver a World Cup to remember for a long time.
"From the beginning of the bidding process we always viewed the FIFA World as an event with benefits that extends far beyond football. We knew that we could create legacies that would benefit not only Qatar, but the region and global sport for decades to come.
"Today, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee is tasked with delivering the 2022 World Cup in accordance with the goals set out in the Qatar National Vision 2030 and National Development Strategy."
Some of the goals include and not limited to;
*Programme and stakeholder management to ensure the timely delivery of infrastructure, competition and non-competition venues;
*Integrating Qatari culture into the hosting plans to provide the best possible image of the Middle East when the world arrives for the World Cup;
*Making Qatari football more competitive and creating a healthy population, and;
*Meeting the goal of an environmentally sustainable FIFA World Cup by adopting high environmental standards on all projects.
Already, tenders for project managements and stadium designs have already been issued and the first of several new stadiums that will host matches at the 2022 World Cup will begin construction any moment from now at the Education City. The Qatar Foundation is behind the take off stadium project.
While addressing the European Club Association (ECA) that held its 10th General Assembly in Doha recently, Secretary General of the 2022 Supreme Committee, Hassan Al Thawadi, used the chance to further drum home that heat will not be a problem when the world gather in Qatar for the World Cup. Although respected stadium designer like John Barrow of Populus, has insisted that air cooling techniques were unsuitable for larger areas, Qatar officials insist that their plan was on track.
"Populus weren't working on our cooling technology. We've got a prototype coming very soon. It's our commitment, absolutely. New and revolutionary technologies will keep both players and spectators cool in open-air stadiums, delivering on one of our legacy promises of delivering an environmentally friendly and sustainable FIFA World Cup.
"From the beginning, we pledged to share the know-how behind these second-generation cooling systems with countries with similar summer climates to our own. We want to be able to expand mega-event hosting and leave a legacy of opportunity for nations and parts of the world that have not previously had the opportunity to host such events, due to climate concerns," he noted.
He further admitted that several of the planned stadiums will have modular components that will be disassembled following the tournament and donated to developing nations in need of sporting infrastructure. The cooling is not going to be limited to the playing pitches alone. The Qatar 2022 committee is planning an all encompassing cooling projects that will also ensure that the entire stadium neighbourhood is enjoyed by fans.
"Fans will come. They will experience a middle-eastern World Cup. They will feel safe. They will feel secure, they will feel comfortable and they will have a lot of fun," promised the scribe.
Going by the MoU submitted to FIFA, Qatar is believed going to invest 137bn pounds sterling over the next nine years in infrastructure projects before the World Cup and the 2022 Supreme Committee scribe says cooling technology would be used over wider areas than originally planned.
"There are two cities where the neighbourhoods use active and passive cooling techniques whether in terms of shading or the way it brings the wind. Blowing in the cooled air is the active aspect but at the same time utilizing the shading techniques. Part of our commitment is that when fans come in they'll enjoy their time here. We made that commitment to the world and we can't back away from it," Thawadi assured the 153-member clubs at the General Assembly in Doha.
If there is one facility that keeps drawing attention to Qatar sport, nay football, it is the world renowned Aspire Sports Complex. Athletes from around the world have been trooping into Doha to utilize the country's world-class sporting facilities and to receive specialized sporting treatments at Aspire.
In just January alone, Paris Saint- Germain, FC Bayern Munich, Manchester United and FC Schalke 04 have had cause to be at Aspire for one thing or the other. And many more are on the schedule.