Ronald de Boer: I wish I was still playing, so I could experience Qatar 2022

Netherlands football legend Ronald de Boer believes Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup™ will have a positive impact on the country and region.

The former Ajax, Barcelona and Rangers midfielder played in two World Cups and is looking forward to a unique version of the tournament later this year.

De Boer, who ended his playing career with Qatari teams Al Rayyan and Al Shamal, believes the compact tournament concept will boost players and fans, and said everyone should expect a warm welcome when they arrive in the country in November and December.

The Qatar Legacy Ambassador was interviewed by during the lead-up to the final draw, which will take place this Friday at Doha Exhibition and Convention Center. He gave his thoughts on Qatar’s preparations, the Netherlands national team and which nation he expects to lift the trophy at Lusail Stadium on 18 December.

With only eight months to go until the big kick-off, what are your impressions of Qatar’s preparations so far?

Preparations are going as planned. All the stadiums are ready, with only Lusail left to be inaugurated. It has 80,000 seats and looks unbelievable. I’ve been really impressed with all the stadiums – they are all designed to reflect Qatari life and culture.

During the Arab Cup, Qatar showed it is ready for the World Cup. There has been an incredible transformation in the country since Qatar won the bid in 2010 and I think fans will really enjoy their time there later this year.

Having played and lived in Qatar at the end of your career, how big a moment will the World Cup be for the country and region?

I think every World Cup has a huge impact on the host country. As Qatar is a relatively small country, I think this World Cup will have an even greater influence compared to previous tournaments. I think it will have a positive outcome – not only for Qatar but the whole region. It’s the first World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world, so it’s a big moment for football in this part of the world. There are hundreds of millions of football fans in this region and they will be desperate to see their heroes play. We saw the passion for football during the Arab Cup and I think people from other parts of the world will be surprised by the atmosphere that’s created during the World Cup.

This is the first World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world – how important is it to host the World Cup in new regions?

It’s very important. Hosting the World Cup offers a chance for countries to show their culture and answer any misconceptions that people may have. When you look at Qatar, it has also been an opportunity to develop a lot of infrastructure, like new roads and public transport, and even social areas, like workers’ rights. These improvements will not only help Qatar – but also other countries in the region. The World Cup has helped to accelerate important changes in the country for the benefit of everyone living and working in Qatar. This has been a positive thing for the country and will be a great legacy for the World Cup.

This will be a compact tournament, with all the stadiums and training sites close to one another. How do you think this will benefit the players?

To be honest, I wish I was still a player, so I could experience this World Cup. When I played in USA ’94, we had to do a lot of travelling on planes and buses between games. In Qatar, the players will be back at their hotel about an hour after the game. For the players, it will be very convenient and help their recovery and preparation.

It will also be great for the fans. With everyone in the same place, you will really feel like a major tournament is going on. You will get to meet people from all over the world. We’ve not really seen this at previous World Cups on this scale. I think it will be an amazing experience.

What should fans and visitors to Qatar look out for during the World Cup?

Everyone can expect a warm welcome. When I lived in Qatar, I always appreciated the friendliness of everyone living there and I am sure they will welcome people from all over the world with open arms. For fans, it will be an interesting experience as many of them will be travelling to a new region and have the chance to learn about a new culture. Being a compact World Cup, fans will have the chance to watch more football than ever before. It will be a shared experience for everyone and I expect it to feel like one big party across the country.

What are your hopes for the Netherlands heading into this World Cup?

The feeling back home is that everyone is very happy to have qualified automatically. We don’t have superstars like Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi or Neymar, but I think we have a very talented group of players. But to be successful, we will have to approach every game as a team. At big tournaments, if you can come together as a team, you can go very far. When you look through the squad, we have talented players like Memphis Depay, Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Virgil van Dijk, and some other youngsters coming through like Donyell Malen.

I’m not sure if they can make the final but the last eight should be possible, and then after that, you need a bit of luck. My prediction is that they can make it as far as the semi-finals, but I hope I am wrong, and they go on to win the World Cup. As a country, we have come close on a few occasions, so it would be great if the Netherlands could finally go all the way.

Give us your prediction for Qatar 2022. Which team would you consider the favourites to lift the trophy at Lusail Stadium on 18 December?

I would say France. They have the star quality with a player like Mbappé and have an incredible squad. I think you could make three competitive teams from the group of players they have available to pick from. I would say France, Brazil, Germany and Spain are the four teams most likely to lift the trophy.