Saudi Arabia, Paraguay, Tunisia – just three of the nations ranked higher than 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar in the FIFA Rankings.
It’s fair to say that, if they weren’t hosting the bloody thing, a side with about as much World Cup pedigree as Botswana certainly wouldn’t have had a ball in the pot for last Friday’s draw.
And few will be giving Qatar much of a chance of progressing from an intriguing Group A, containing a Netherlands side boasting a smattering of world-class talent and a Senegal side led by Liverpool superstar Sadio Mane.
But how have previous World Cup hosts fared on home soil? Can Qatar reach the latter stages? Or will they crash and burn in front of their own supporters?
HISTORY ON THEIR SIDE?
Well, one of the best examples of a team being driven on by a vociferous home support came as recently as 2018, when a rather limited Russia side – inspired by Denis Cheryshev playing the best football of his career – reached the quarter-finals, knocking out much-fancied Spain along the way.
South Korea did even better in 2002, finishing fourth after topping their group and defeating Italy and Spain (La Roja again finding themselves on the wrong side of history) en route to the semi-finals. Co-hosts Japan, meanwhile, reached the round-of-16.
Brazil, like South Korea, also finished fourth on home soil. Though it’s fair to say the most successful side in World Cup history don’t look back on the 2014 tournament with the same nostalgia as South Korean supporters do 2002.
That 7-1 hammering at the hands of Germany was made all the more humiliating when you consider it occurred on their own hallowed turf.
Six teams have won the World Cup on home soil. Uruguay in 1930, Italy in 1934, England in 1966, West Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1988 in France in 1998
Furthermore, Sweden, Chile, Mexico, South Korea, Japan and Russia enjoyed their best ever World Cups in familiar surroundings. And while South Africa bowed out at the group stage in 2010, they still held their own, defeating a crisis-hit France as a swarm of vuvuzelas buzzed from above.
In 2022 Qatar, of course, are guaranteed to set a new personal best for World Cup progression given they have never set foot on the international stage before. But the remarkable success enjoyed by relative continental minnows such as South Korea, Japan and Chile should give Qatar hope they can thrive – and not merely survive – in 2022.