(This October 10 story corrects to make clear Italy were hosts without having previously competed in the finals)
DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar play Syria on Tuesday in a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier with the Gulf state facing the very real prospect of becoming the only nation apart from Italy in 1934 to host a World Cup without having previously competed in the finals.
Qatar are bottom of a six-team group in the final round of Asian World Cup qualifiers having lost their first three matches against Iran, Uzbekistan and South Korea.
Another defeat on Tuesday by Syria, who last week upset China 1-0, would all but end Qatar’s chances of qualifying for their first World Cup in Russia in 2018, four years before they host the 2022 tournament.
Qatar coach Jorge Fossati, who was hired last month in a bid to revive their fading hopes of qualifying, is still hopeful his team can make it.
“I know the excitement of the people of this country. I’ve always said qualifying for the Russia World Cup is very tough,” Fossati told the Doha Stadium magazine on Monday.
“But if we play with full concentration, then we’ve the possibility to win. There are technical and tactical details about Tuesday’s game, but the most important will be mentality,” he said.
Two teams from each of Asia’s two qualifying groups will go through to Russia while the third-placed sides will pursue a place through playoffs.
Tiny Qatar has used billions of dollars of its oil and gas revenues to build stadiums, ports and a metro system ahead of the 2022 World Cup, underlining how much is at stake for the Gulf state.
Uruguay staged the first World Cup in 1930 but the hosts of the next 19 tournaments had all previously participated in the global showpiece event.
Reporting by Tom Finn, editing by Ed Osmond