On top of the world

SUDDENLY the whole world has woken up to Qatar.

The eyes of the world will be on the Middle Eastern Arab country when it hosts the World Cup in 2022.

The excitement of hosting the world’s greatest sporting event is already reaching fever pitch in the oil and gas rich country, especially among young footballers and fans in Dawlat Qatar, as it is known locally.

Already, however, the boys from Aspire’s highly regarded Sports Academy are making a name for themselves in tournaments all over the world.

Last summer Aspire won silverware in three European tournaments and even knocked Manchester United out of the Milk Cup

Aspire head coach Michael Browne described the result as “one of the best performances by an Aspire side since we started in 2004.”

The team arrived in Northern Ireland having finished third in the prestigious Gothia Cup in Sweden - beaten in the semi-finals by eventual winners IF Elfsborg.

And two of their under-12 teams were winners and runners-up at the Mladsich Zaku tournament in the Czech Republic.

So the ‘class of 2011’, who were the first team to arrive last weekend for this year’s Milk Cup, have a lot to live up to!

Playing in the Premier section, the team will face Bohemians, Co Down and Otago from New Zealand in the group stages.

Team coach, Simon Jennings, said: “We have brought over a mixed group from our academies in Qatar and Senegal.

“We are looking at the bigger picture in terms of development but we are looking for three good performances against different opposition and styles and hope that the boys can take up the challenge and see how far they can progress.”

Simon added that the boys had been acclimatising with the rather colder local temperatures as they were used to playing in anything from 25-40 degree heat.

“The team is a 95/96 group, younger than the rest of the teams in the tournament. Three players were here last year, Franck Cedric, a wide midfielder and two players who were injured, Hishan Awadh, a central midfielder and Solomon Ime Udo who plays in central defence.

“Basically we have a very good programme of assessing the boys with their technical training and tactical skills to help with their development.”

Created in 2004, the Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence in Doha aims to transform promising young athletes into world champions across a number of sports.

The Academy works to develop the student as a whole, providing him or her with full academic, social and sporting development.

Legendary sports stars such as Pele and Diego Maradona attended the opening ceremony alongside athletes Ed Moses, Said Aouita and Hisaham El Guerrouj, swimmer Mark Spitz, footballer Rabah Madjer and gymnast Nadia Comaneci.

Its status is world sport is in the ascendancy. Last year the country, with a population of just 300,000 people, hosted the hosted the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships, attracting a record number of countries (149) and participants (more than 1,100 athletes and officials).

Speaking about Qatar hosting the World Cup, Simon added: “It certainly has raised awareness about Qatar itself. There is a lot of infrastucture work to be done to prepare the country for the World Cup but it is certainly exciting for everyone.”