Fribourg, Switzerland, Jul 14 : Milovan Rajevac wants to create football history as the first man to lead Qatar to the World Cup.
The Serbian coach has a difficult mission, though, in trying to give the wealthy 2022 World Cup host credibility on the field to match its status as a player in football politics.
Hired in February, Rajevac's task truly begins next week when the 94th-ranked Qataris start their qualification road to Brazil 2014 with an tricky preliminary-round tie against Vietnam.
Rajevac will be richly rewarded for success, although his 3 ½-year contract could mean little if Qatar is eliminated in the two-leg series before the main draw is even made on July 30 in Rio de Janeiro.
However, he told The Associated Press he is motivated by making history, not money.
“That is the most important thing, the greatest satisfaction. This is something that you cannot buy,” Rajavec said through a translator, after his team's final match of a brief European training camp on Tuesday.
“This is an excellent challenge to leave a mark in this country and help them achieve their dreams. It would be just confirmation for everything I did with Ghana.”
Last year, Rajevac's Ghana team eliminated the United States in the second round before coming within touching distance of being the first African team to reach a World Cup semifinal.
In a notorious act of gamesmanship, Uruguay forward Luis Suarez used a hand to block a goalbound shot in the final minute of extra-time, denying what would have been Ghana's winning goal. The resultant penalty struck the crossbar, as the red-carded Suarez danced a jig of delight near the tunnel, and Uruguay won the ensuing shootout.
Despite the injustice, the team's performance in South Africa enhanced Rajevac's reputation, coming just five years after he was an assistant at Doha club Al Sadd when the Qatari league was an outpost sprinkled with aging stars seeking one last payday.
Rajevac said he was “thrilled” to come back to Qatar because of its special place in football's new world order.
“That is why we're trying to build a team for the future. You try to do everything according to a plan.”
That plan includes Qatar reaching a World Cup on merit, in its 10th attempt. It qualifies automatically for the 2022 tournament as host.
Qatar has two chances left, but the relaxed coach said he's not under stress.
“There's no additional pressure,” Rajevac said. “Football is like that, everything is pressure. You need to be very calm to do your work properly. We try to channel that pressure into a positive performance.”
In Europe this month, Qatar lost 3-0 to Swiss top-division side Lausanne, and 4-2 against Bayern Munich in Italy, before returning to Switzerland to draw 2-2 with Neuchatel Xamax.
As fate would have it, Rajevac now looks for goals from a Uruguayan forward—Sebastian Soria, a naturalized Qatari who has played seven seasons there.
“The results are not very important during this period of preparation but it's obvious the team is improving and we're happy for that,” said Rajevac, who has a final warmup on Sunday, against India in Doha.
He dismissed Qatar's links to corruption allegations, and suggestions it “bought” the World Cup, that have tarnished the image of FIFA and its leaders.
“I have heard something but really I'm not thinking about that,” Rajevac said. “I don't have enough information and I'm not so interested in that part, because I'm thinking about my team.”
On July 23, Rajevac's men begin their 2014 World Cup quest, in the home leg at Al Sadd Stadium, at the same time as FIFA's ethics committee in Zurich is set to rule on election bribery charges leveled against Mohamed bin Hammam, the longtime public face of Qatar football worldwide.
Qatar's brief European tour was organized by a Swiss agency owned by Michel Zen-Ruffinen, the former FIFA official who lost a power struggle with Sepp Blatter around the FIFA president's first re-election in 2002, and whose comments about the 2022 bid to British undercover reporters last year fueled the corruption scandal that eventually saw two FIFA voters banned from football.
Neither Zen-Ruffinen, who was declared “persona non grata” by FIFA last November, nor Blatter, who is Neuchatel's honorary president, attended Tuesday's match.
Rajevac said he has never met bin Hammam but has been congratulated by Blatter after Ghana matches at the World Cup and African Cup of nations, and smiles at the memories.
He's also untroubled by Qatar's searing heat, having worked there before. His previous two jobs were also in Ghana and Saudi Arabia.
“We already have one stadium that's air conditioned and the Aspire academy is a fantastic facility for training,” Rajevac said. “So heat doesn't disturb us at all.”
Qatar, he believes, “definitely deserves respect” for trying to learn by hosting “a lot of important competitions in different sports.”
Like his employer, Rajevac describes a philosophy of “creating and leaving something behind me.”
“Qatar is really investing a lot, this is the target—to build an excellent team for Qatar so it can represent the country at the highest level.
“I came here for a long time to build a team and qualify for the World Cup,” he said.
And how many bonus dollars are written into his contract for accomplishing that mission?
The translator laughs, asks the question, and Rajevac smiles broadly.
“There is no money that can give you that satisfaction when you qualify this country for the first time in their history.” AP