Qatar may have fallen at the first hurdle in their South American adventure but the 2022 World Cup hosts showed enough in Brazil to suggest the future is bright for the Maroons.
Â They arrived at the Copa America as an unknown quantity as far as the locals were concerned but despite losing two of their three matches, Qatar proved competitive enough to ensure they wonâ€™t be a surprise package next year when making their second appearance in the South American showpiece.
Â â€œThere were times that we played well. We have to keep working hard,â€ said Qatarâ€™s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez.
Â â€œItâ€™s a young team looking at the next three years. We need to work hard to be strong when we get there.â€
Â Qatar have never qualified for the World Cup and will take part for the first time as hosts in 2022.
Â Despite their modest history and tiny indigenous population, the gas-rich Gulf state has lofty ambitions and took a pair of important steps this year.
Â In February in the United Arab Emirates, they overcame a hostile home crowd — provoked by a political spat in the Gulf region — to win the Asian Cup for the first time, having never before gone beyond the quarter-finals.
Â And their participation in the Copa America — the oldest continental national team competition in the world — has exposed Qatar to a higher level of tournament than theyâ€™ve ever faced before.
Â Despite a positive start when they fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Paraguay, it proved a chastening experience following defeats by Colombia (1-0) and Argentina (2-0).
Â But Colombiaâ€™s Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, who has a lot of experience playing against Qatar having coached Iran for eight years, feels there is more to come.
Â â€œQatar are here to show that thereâ€™s football in Asia and if you donâ€™t respect their characteristics, their teamwork… look what happened with Paraguay,â€ said Queiroz before his side played the Qataris.
Â â€œThey go to 2-2 and Qatar could have won it.â€
Â Although Colombia dominated, Qatar held on grimly for 86 minutes and created several chances on the counter-attack before eventually falling to a Duvan Zapata header.
Â â€œIt was a very difficult match and it was very important to be patient,â€ said Colombia midfielder Gustavo Cuellar after the game.
Qatarâ€™s has been a patient project, and many years in the making.
Sanchez, a product of Barcelonaâ€™s renown La Masia training center, joined Qatarâ€™s Aspire Academy – which aims to develop elite athletes – in 2006.
Having coached Qatarâ€™s under-19, under-20 and under-23 teams he took over the top job from Uruguayan Jorge Fossati in July 2017.
And itâ€™s been an immediate success with Qatar beating Japan 3-1 to win the first major title in their history in February. But for bouts of naivety, Qatar could realistically have made the knock-out stages in Brazil.
They gave away fourth-minute goals against Paraguay and Argentina — the latter after a suicidal Bassam Hicham pass across his own area fell straight to Lautaro Martinez to fire home.
Â Against Paraguay, two Qatar players failed to turn a wicked cross into an open goal at 1-0.
Â â€œWe paid for inexperience, we started two matches by conceding goals from unnecessary actions,â€ bemoaned Sanchez.
Â That, though, is something they should be able to iron out of their game, if not by next yearâ€™s Copa America, then at least the World Cup.
Â â€œTheyâ€™re a very worthy team with a great future, with young players,â€ enthused Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni.