Reading goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi

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Former Oman national team goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi has explained that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will have huge significance for all nations in the Arab region.

The retired 40-year-old, who notably played in the Premier League for the likes of Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic, has explained that the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East – and the first to feature more than one team from the Gulf region – is a major source of pride.

“We’re proud to see Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the World Cup. I’m proud as a footballer and a sportsman in general. We’ve never seen this before and that shows how football has improved in our region,” he said.

“We’re used to seeing Saudi Arabia at the World Cup; they play good football, and they have some good players who have experience and have shown the self-belief and passion needed to improve,” he added.

“For me, this edition of the World Cup will be exceptional, not only for Saudi Arabia or Qatar, but for all the Gulf countries, including Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait. For the fans, it will be close to us, and this has already been shown by [the sale of] tickets.

“Millions of people want to come to Qatar. They know it’s going to be a special edition and we’ve seen this in the stadiums and the country in general. Everything will be perfect.”

The moment Qatar was announced as the 2022 host nation was special for Al-Habsi, who felt immediately confident of the country’s ability to deliver an exceptional edition of the global showpiece.

“I was in a house in Bolton with friends and family. I remember I was playing in the Premier League at the time and the atmosphere was exceptional. Many players and fans were asking what the World Cup would be like in Qatar, and that was 12 years ago,” he said.

“From the moment FIFA made the announcement, we were confident it would be one of the best editions ever. How the stadiums have been built and the compact nature of the tournament shows that it will be a different experience, not only for fans who will be watching from the stands, but for those outside as well.

“Previously, we’ve always had fans travelling [long] distances from one stadium to another, which cost them money, but in Qatar it will be one month in one place. The stadiums are close to each other, so it will be outstanding.”

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