Qatar has been in a World Cup final before – against Germany. A look back at the amazing events at the 1981 U20 World Cup in Australia.
Ultimately, Qatar did not fare any better than Hungary: the fabulous World Cup fairy tales of the two countries ended in pouring rain against Germany. Hungary’s golden generation lost the World Cup final in Bern in 1954, while Qatar’s U20s lost in similar conditions in Sydney, Australia in 1981.
“We had fantastic weather for three weeks with sunshine and 30 degrees. Then we’ll play the Qataris in the final, I open the curtains in the morning and it’s pouring rain”Germany’s former keeper Rüdiger Vollborn recalled in an interview SPOX and GOAL. “That was worse than the Fritz Walter weather of 1954.”
Germany’s opponent in the final of the U20 World Cup in 1981 was actually called Qatar, although the qualification of the small emirate of the Persian Gulf was a sensation. Qatar had gained independence from Britain just ten years earlier. 220,000 inhabitants, 600 registered footballers. According to the official FIFA report on the tournament “many people in Australia admitted embarrassed that they were unaware of the country’s existence”.
Qatar: Via Brazil and England to the final
In Germany, on the other hand, it was probably not just the name of the country that was known, but even that of some players: Michael Zorc from Borussia Dortmund played in midfield, and up front Roland Wohlfarth, who would later become FC Bayern Munich striker. The scaffolding of the young team was formed by the reigning U18 European champions, a few months earlier they had prevailed against Poland in the final.
Many of the then defeated Poles dueled with Qatar in the first group game of the U20 World Cup. 0:1, the first sensation. “That made us sit up and take notice”, recalls Vollborn, now the fan representative at his former club Bayer 04 Leverkusen. In the quarter-finals, the surprise team met Brazil, the home country of Qatar coach Evaristo de Macedo. Hat-trick by Khalid Salman Al-Muhannadi, 3-2.
In the semi-finals they managed a 2-1 draw against England. However, the recent sensation was marred by a rush by British fans. The Qataris had to be escorted to the team bus by a police escort, FIFA President Joao Havelange showed up “disappointed and upset by the disturbances”. There had already been fan riots during the group game between England and Argentina.
Argentina arrived as the defending champions, but they also had an incredible advantage in their 1979 triumph: Diego Armando Maradona. The Soviet Union had previously won the very first U20 World Cup. In the third final, Germany finally won their only U20 World Cup title against Qatar – favored by the weather.
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“The Qataris probably didn’t know any rain at all. Before the game they didn’t even come out on the pitch to warm up: I asked myself: do they even play? That was strange”, Vollborn recalls. They still appeared on the pitch at kick-off, but according to the German keeper they had “realized relatively quickly that they didn’t stand a chance against us in these conditions”.
According to Vollborn, Qatar had a stable defence, technically good midfield players and three fast strikers. “They kept dribbling, but the ball always stayed in the puddles. We Germans knew how to play in such conditions: poke the ball forward and run after it.” This tactic led to a goal four times. 4-0
According to Vollborn, there was no exchange between the players of the two teams after the game, the Germans generally seem to have dealt less with their opponents in the final. “I don’t have the name of any of their players handy today”says Vollborn. “To be honest, it was no different before the final.”
Instead of their names, the keeper remembered their bonuses very carefully: “We heard that every second-place Qatari player got a car, a house and 500,000 DM. For us it was a watch and 25 DM pocket money per day for the win.”
After the U20 World Cup, Qatar made two appearances at the Olympics
The sensational run of success triggered euphoria in Qatar. “My mother told me on the phone that when the games started, you didn’t see anyone in the cafés or on the streets”, reported striker Badr Bilal. Despite the defeat in the final, the Emir sent a private jet home, followed by a motorcade in Doha. And in Germany? Vollborn had his parents pick him up at the airport in Berlin.
For Qatar, the tournament was the launch pad for the first successful football era. In 1984 and 1992 the emirate qualified for the Olympic soccer tournament, and in 1992 it even reached the quarter-finals. In the same year, they won the first title by winning the Golf Cup, and in 1991 they reached the semi-finals of the U17 World Cup. The A selection narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 1990 World Cup.
Despite the considerable successes with their national team, none of the players involved had an international career worth mentioning – maybe they just didn’t want to leave the desert for rainy Europe.