Football was brought to Qatar during a time which coincided with initial discovery of oil reserves in Dukhan in 1940. By 1948, expatriate oil workers played the first official football match in Qatar. The was formed in 1960, and the QFA joined FIFA in 1970. Simultaneously during this period, the were drawing up plans for the establishment of a regional football competition within the GCC and Qatari officials were involved with the corroboration of this proposal. The plans came to fruition and in March 1970 the Arabian Gulf Cup was inaugurated.
The Qatar national team played its first official match on 27 March 1970 against hosts , losing 1–2 as Mubarak Faraj scored the sole goal for Qatar. The newly formed Qatar national team posted underwhelming results in the first Gulf Cup tournament, coming in last place with a single point, with the highlight of their tournament being a 1–1 draw with the in their final match.
In the next edition of the Gulf Cup in 1972, Qatar was again relegated to last place after suffering 3 straight defeats. The next tournament in 1974 proved to be somewhat of a break-through for the Qataris as they achieved their first triumph in international football with a 4–0 victory over . The Qataris lost out to Saudi Arabia in the semi-finals, but achieved a 3rd place standing after emerging the victors of a penalty shoot-out against the .
The first time they entered the qualifying stages for the AFC Asian Cup was in 1975. They were not successful in qualifying for the 1976 Asian Cup, with and Saudi Arabia booking the group's two qualifying berths. Despite this setback, Qatar finished in 3rd place in the 1976 Gulf Cup as the host nation the next year.
The national team played its first FIFA World Cup qualifying match in 1977. Qatar was set to play the United Arab Emirates on 11 March 1977, but the last minute withdrawal of the Emirati team from the competition merely postponed Qatar's debut until two days later when Bahrain were defeated 2–0 in Doha.
Their Asian Cup debut came in 1980 under head coach Evaristo de Macedo. They had qualified for the tournament after topping a relatively easy group composing of and . Their showing in the main tournament was unimpressive, making an early exit from the group stages with two defeats, one draw and one win.
Qatar narrowly lost to in the finals of the 1984 Gulf Cup, nonetheless they were named runners-up, their most impressive accolade until 1992.
They failed to make it out of the preliminary stages of the 1982 and 1986 World Cup qualifying rounds. However, the team qualified for both the 1984 and 1988 editions of the Asian Cup. They fell short of qualifying for the semi-finals of the 1984 tournament, with Saudi Arabia's Mohaisen Al-Jam'an's 88th-minute goal against ensuring a semi-final position for both teams. They also missed out on a semi-final place in 1988; however, they notably defeated by a score of 3–0.
Qatar arguably reached its peak in the 1990s, attaining its highest-ever FIFA rating (53) in August 1993. Qatar started off with an emphatic qualifying campaign for the 1990 World Cup, finishing at the top of their group. They were denied a spot in the World Cup after finishing below the United Arab Emirates and in the final round of the qualifiers.
In 1990, the national team once again finished runners-up in the Gulf Cup as Kuwait won the final two matches of the tournament. Two years later, they won the competition on home soil for the first time under the leadership of Sebastião Lapola, despite a 1–0 loss against Saudi Arabia in their final game. They were also named runners-up in the 1996 Gulf Cup.
Qatar reached the Asian Zone's final qualifying round for France 1998. After wins against China and Iran, they played their last match against , where a victory would have earned qualification. However, they lost out as Saudi Arabia won 1–0 to reach the finals.
As 1998 Arab Nations Cup hosts, they finished runners-up to Saudi Arabia.
They made it to the quarter-finals of the 2000 Asian Cup despite finishing 3rd in their group, but lost to in their quarter-final confrontation.
They reached the final qualifying round again in 2001, but were defeated by Bora Milutinovic's China team, who topped the section to progress to their first FIFA World Cup. Frenchman Philippe Troussier took the manager's job after the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, but was unsuccessful in both the 2004 Asian Cup and the qualifying campaign for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Troussier was sacked after the World Cup qualifying campaign, and under Bosnian Džemaludin Mušović, the team won the Gulf Cup in 2004 and the gold in 2006. Mušović stepped down after Qatar only earned two points from three matches in the 2007 Asian Cup.
The job of coaching the team in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup fell to Jorge Fossati, who led the team throughout the first and second AFC rounds up to the third round. After leaving them at the top of their group with only two played matches, Fossati had to undergo stomach surgery. Subsequently, the Qatar Football Association ended their co-operation with him in September 2008, as the QFA claimed he needed too long to recover from surgery. Bruno Metsu was called up for the job, but Qatar failed to qualify after finishing fourth in their qualifying group.
Qatar was announced as hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in December 2010.
In 2011, as hosts of the 2011 Asian Cup, they advanced to the quarter-finals. They succumbed to a late 2–3 defeat to eventual champions after a goal was scored by Masahiko Inoha in the 89th minute.
Also as hosts, they went on to win the 2014 WAFF Championship after defeating 2–0 in the final. The competition was made up primarily of youth and reserve teams, of which Qatar's was the latter. Djamel Belmadi, the head coach of the B team, replaced Fahad Thani as the head coach of the senior team as a result of the team's positive performances. 10 months later, Djamel Belmadi led Qatar to gold in the 2014 Gulf Cup. They advanced from the group stages after three draws, going on to defeat 3–1 in the semi-final, and were victorious in the final against , who were playing in front of a home crowd, by a margin of 2–1.
Despite winning the Gulf Cup and finishing the year 2014 with only one defeat, Qatar showed a poor form in the 2015 Asian Cup. Qatar was defeated 1–4 by the in their opener. This was continued with a 0–1 loss to and 1–2 to . Qatar was eliminated in the group stages with no points and placed 4th in Group C.
Qatar's campaign in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia was a surprise. Their start in the second round of World Cup qualifying in the was nearly perfect, with seven wins and only one loss. However, their success in the second round didn't follow them to the third round. Qatar finished bottom of their group, ensuring they will play their first World Cup match on home soil in 2022, the first team to do so since in 1934.
Qatar's players celebrating the country's first-ever Asian Cup title in the 2019
Qatar continued its poor form in the 2017 Gulf Cup, which was hosted by Kuwait. Qatar opened the tournament with a 4–0 win against , but that was followed by a 1–2 loss to and an unconvincing 1–1 draw to Bahrain. Qatar took the third place in Group B with four points and was eliminated in the group stage of the competition, which was considered as an upset of the tournament, especially after winning the 2014 edition.
However, Qatar had an excellent campaign at the 2019 Asian Cup. Their opener saw them defeat 2–0. This was followed by a 6–0 thrashing of and a 2–0 win against three-time champions Saudi Arabia, which sealed the team getting first place in the group. They had a 1–0 win against Iraq in the Round of 16 and a late win against defending runners-up in the quarter-finals, seeing them through to the semi-finals for the first time ever, where they defeated the hosts United Arab Emirates 4–0 to set up a final against 4-time winners Japan. Qatar ended up winning the final 3–1 over Japan, marking their first ever major tournament title in their history, and capping off one of the most improbable Asian Cup runs in the tournament's history, especially since they conceded only one goal in all their games.
Qatar was invited to the 2019 Copa América. They were placed in Group B with , and . Their first game was against Paraguay where they came back from a 2–0 deficit to tie it 2–2 but marked for the first time Qatar suffered more than one goal in any major competition since winning the Asian Cup in UAE. It was followed by a 0–1 loss to Colombia, ending the team's undefeated streak in any major competition to eight. A 0–2 loss to Argentina meant Qatar took the last place in Group B with a single point and was eliminated in the group stage of the competition.
Naturalised foreign players
While it is reasonably common for footballers to represent national teams other than their birth nations, the nature and extent of the practice for the Qatari team has been the subject of scrutiny and criticism at various points during the twenty-first century. In 2004, FIFA cited the intention of three Brazilian players – , and Leandro – to play for the Qatar national team as the immediate trigger to their decision to tighten eligibility rules to ensure players have ties to the country they represent.
Qatar continued to pursue a strategy of naturalising foreign-born players, within the limitations of the new rules, and it continued to prove controversial. The "Aspire Football Dreams" program of recruitment of boys from Africa to an academy in Qatar drew a substantial amount of criticism. While Qatari authorities described it as a humanitarian effort and a way to provide competition for native Qatari players, critics claimed that it was merely another exploitative way of acquiring naturalised players, with Vice linking it to human rights abuses and the kafala system.
In a 2015 friendly against Algeria, six of the eleven of the players in the starting team were born outside of Qatar. Then president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter warned Qatar that FIFA would monitor their player selection to ensure that they were not relying too heavily on naturalised players. He made comparisons to the Qatar national handball team, referring to the team's selection for the 2015 World Men's Handball Championship as an "absurdity". The following year, naturalised players formed the backbone of the team and were sufficiently integral that head coach Jorge Fossati threatened to resign if they were removed.
The reliance on naturalised players has subsequently reduced, with only two members of the squad that beat Switzerland in a 2018 friendly being born outside the country. However, at the 2019 Asian Cup, amidst diplomatic tensions between the two countries, the lodged a formal complaint against Qatar, alleging that Almoez Ali and Bassam Al-Rawi were not eligible to play for them. These complaints were dismissed by the AFC.