Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland to face 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar in friendly

By Keith Bailie

The Irish Football Association are on the verge of agreeing a friendly for Northern Ireland against controversial 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar in May.

Michael O’Neill’s side look set to play the Gulf state at a stadium in England. The friendly is likely to be played on Sunday, May 31, just 13 days before Northern Ireland play Romania at Windsor Park in a vital Euro 2016 qualifier.

A spokesperson for the IFA said: “The IFA are currently in discussions with the Qatar Football Association with regards to a possible friendly.

“We are still in discussions with regards the game; however we can confirm that it would not be played at Windsor Park.”

Those comments do not rule out the possibility of a trip to Doha for O’Neill’s team, but it’s understood the friendly is likely to be played in England, with Northern Ireland training in the UK ahead of June’s vital clash with Group F leaders Romania in Belfast.

There is also a possibility that Northern Ireland will play Wales before the Romania game, in a similar set-up to this month’s friendly with Scotland four days prior to a Euro clash at home to Finland.

A first game for Northern Ireland against Qatar though would generate even more interest.

Qatar have seldom been out of the headlines since winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup under controversial circumstances in December 2010.

Allegations of corruptions and bribery during the selection process lead to Fifa's Garcia Report. Michael Garcia quit Fifa after only a 48-page summary of his report was released, rather than his full findings.

There have also been concerns over safety of workers employed to build World Cup infrastructure and the rights of homosexual football fans who wish to attend the tournament. The tournament, which is provisionally scheduled to be held December, will also cause fixture havoc for Europe's major domestic leagues.

The date of the May friendly briefly appeared on the Fifa website yesterday, only to be removed after press inquiries. Although the details have not been finalised London's Craven Cottage could be a potential venue.

Fulham's ground has hosted past internationals, including three recent Republic friendlies. Loftus Road is another option.

Qatar have never previously qualified for a World Cup, although they did qualify for this year's Asian Games in Australia before losing to Bahrain, Iran and the UAE in the group stages.

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