MOSCOW • Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad al-Thani admitted that Qatar, the next World Cup hosts, will struggle to replicate the success of the Russian team on the pitch at this year's tournament because it is a small country.
But, off the pitch, the gulf kingdom, which stretches only 180km from one end to the other, is determined to emulate Russia in overcoming challenges and overturning stereotypes.
Qatar's size, as well as its broiling temperatures and its lack of ready stadium infrastructure, have prompted some to question the decision by Fifa, football's world governing body, to make it host.
Furious construction to get the various venues ready has also led to allegations of exploitation of migrant workers building the new infrastructure, with human rights organisations condemning labour practices in the country.
"We are well aware of the wonderful opportunity the World Cup presents to change opinions and deflect stereotypes," said Hassan Al Thawadi, the secretary-general of the Qatar 2022 organising committee, in Moscow with a delegation of more than 100 officials shadowing the Russians. "We will be a welcoming nation."
Qatar will relax laws on the consumption of alcohol, planning areas for visiting fans where alcohol can be consumed to ensure they replicate the party atmosphere of past tournaments at the Nov 21-Dec 18, 2022 event.
Qatar officials in Russia to learn from the 2018 hosts.
The first Arab country to host the global event will have eight new stadiums, with one completed, two more due this year and the rest scheduled to be finished by 2021. None is more than 35km from the centre of the capital Doha and all are serviced by a brand-new metro system.
Sheikh Tamim vowed that his country would apply all its efforts to making a success of the event.
"We hope to overcome all the difficulties," he said at a Kremlin ceremony on Sunday, when Russian President Vladimir Putin handed over the mantle of World Cup hosts alongside Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
In the build-up to this year's World Cup, some Western politicians called for a boycott over Russia's annexation of Crimea and over allegations, denied by Moscow, that the Kremlin assassinates its opponents overseas.
There were also warnings from some campaign groups about the potential for hooligan violence, racist attacks and homophobia. The tournament proceeded without any significant organisational hitches; there was no violence, and no widespread evidence of racism or harassment of gay visitors.
Infantino even called this the best World Cup and the Russian team also lifted the nation with a fairy-tale run to the quarter-finals.
Qatar has a population of just over 2.5 million, and had never qualified for the Finals previously. But Sheikh Tamim said his country would also try to outdo the success of the Russian team on the pitch.
"Although it will be hard to repeat that success as we're a small country, we are very keen on sport," he said.