Qatar are to prepare for the first World Cup in the Arabian Gulf by taking part in a European qualifying campaign.
The hosts of the 2022 World Cup, which is due to begin in 24 months, have been invited to join Group A of the Uefa qualifiers to increase their experience before the tournament.
Group A features the Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Serbia, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. Qatar will face each team twice but the venues are yet to be decided, with a neutral European venue the most likely outcome. Matches involving the hosts will not be played for points.
France underwent a similar process before hosting Euro 2016, when they joined qualifying Group I, also including Portugal and Serbia, to tune up for the tournament in matches known as “centralised friendlies”.
A Uefa spokesperson, confirming news first reported by the Independent, said: “As Qatar has already qualified for the 2022 Fifa World Cup as hosts, Uefa has invited them to join with the teams of Group A to help their squad prepare for the tournament.”
The European fixtures add to an ever-expanding roster for Qatar. They are set to take part in the Copa América next June, before heading north to play in the Concacaf Gold Cup in July. In December 2021 Qatar will host the Fifa Arab Cup, a test event for the finals the following year which fills the gap left by the defunct Confederations Cup.
Friendlies during a European winter may not do much to simulate the conditions of the air-conditioned Al Janoub stadium in Doha, but it will give Qatar valuable game time against elusive opposition. Qatar have faced only one European team in the past three years, playing Iceland in Belgium in November 2018.
The European qualifying process for the World Cup begins in March and will be completed by November. European play-offs will then take place in March 2022.
England will open their campaign at home to San Marino before playing in Albania and at home to Poland in a late-March triple-header. Their campaign concludes with a double-header against Albania and San Marino.