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Muntari’s arduous journey from the streets to Qatar 2022 hero

While Qatar might have lost the first two matches played at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, their upward trend under the guidance of coach Felix Sanchez Bas has been historical. A country that had only little tradition in football is now able to showcase its talents on the biggest of stages, putting on a superb show for everyone involved.

The lack of experience might be their biggest downfall, with issues plaguing their defence on display, but nevertheless, Qatar has truly emerged as one of the top Asian sides in the world right now, as highlighted by the win in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, when they delivered a vintage performance.

The opening match at Qatar 2022 was a wake-up call, with Ecuador bossing the pitch and dominating through their experience to take a 2-0 win, but Qatar looked better and better in their second game in Group A, in spite of their 1-3 loss against Senegal.

Yet the 41.197 fans who flocked to the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha had a reason to celebrate – Qatar’s first-ever goal at the FIFA World Cup, scored by Mohammed Muntari – a goal that enabled them to stand firm and try to secure at least one point against their African opponents.

Muntari himself is no stranger to African football, as the Ghanian-born striker, who features for Al-Duhail at club level, started playing football in Ghana, at the Golden Lions Soccer Academy, owned by former Ghanaian international Nii Lamptey.

He refined his skills on the streets of Kumasi, alongside Ghanian central defender Mohamed Salisu, before moving to Qatar, with his skills impressing the scouts at the Aspire Academy. Only several years later, he wrote history, scoring the first goal for Qatar at the FIFA World Cup, a remarkable ascension from a player that worked hard and never let challenges ruin his status.

After a short stint at the Aspire Academy, he signed for Qatari side El-Jaish in 2012, kickstarting his career, scoring 18 goals in 45 league games for the side, before moving in 2015 for rivals Lekhwiya.

One year earlier, he accepted the offer to receive Qatari citizenship, enabling him to play for the Middle East side, where he featured 49 times since 2014, scoring 13 goals, one of the most prolific goal scorers of the last decade.

Yet his career has been marred with controversy, after undergoing heavy criticism from his country of birth, due to his allegiance switch, which did not go well.

“It was never financial [switching to Qatar]. We play football firstly because we love football and we want to take care of the people we want to take care of. I wouldn’t say it was financially motivated because, at the end of the day, I could have been playing for Ghana and still be earning much,” said Muntari, according to Ghanian TV3.

However, Muntari did not look behind and became a two-time Qatari champions with Al-Duhail, winning three Emir of Qatar Cups and one Qatari Star Cup at club level and becoming a great super sub for Almoez Ali, the all-time leading goal scorer for Qatar in the national team.

“Truth be told, I will choose Qatar. I will choose Qatar every single day [because of] what they did for me and what they are doing for my people. Deep inside, I knew I took the right decision so if you ask me to do it again, I will choose Qatar over Ghana. I am not saying anything bad about my beloved country Ghana,” he added.

But Muntari is not the only player of Ghanian descent playing for another side at the FIFA World Cup, joining a long list of players that also counts Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo, Memphis Depay and Jeremie Frimpong, USA’s Yunus Musah, Wales’ Ethan Ampadu or Belgium’s Jeremy Doku.

However, the feel-good story will truly make Muntari a name to be remembered and revered throughout Qatar and one that will be usually used for trivia games in the future.

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