ASUNCION: Qatar will compete for the first time as invited guests at next year’s Copa America in Brazil – their first major competitive outing beyond their own Asian region writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

The Qatar Football Association is eager for its players to gain international experience ahead of the Gulf state’s hosting of the World Cup in 2022 when they will be appearing in the finals for the first time.

Qatar’s selection as one of the guests comes only weeks after CONMEBOL asked FIFA to fast-track World Cup expansion from 32 to 48 teams for the finals in the Gulf state in 2022 rather than in 2026.

The 2019 Copa America will feature 12 teams after South American confederation CONMEBOL was unable to realise a plan for an expansion to 16 nations. Japan will be the other guest nation joining the 10 CONMEBOL members at the tournament between June 14 and July 7 in Brazil.

Spain and Portugal refused invitations, partly because of the launch of the UEFA Nations League, while regular guests Mexico and United States will be competing in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

The 2019 Copa’s local organising committee inclues former World Cup winners Cafu and Branco, as well as Rogério Caboclo (executive director and president-elect of the CBF), Fernando Sarney (CBF deputy vice-president and a member of the FIFA Council) and Antonio Carlos Nunes (CBF president since the suspension of Marco Polo del Nero).

The 2019 edition will be the last in odd-numbered years. In 2020 the US will hosts another  tournament modelled on the Copa Centenario and subsequently the competition will be played in the same years of the European Championship finals.

The Copa America, launched in 1916, is world’s oldest surviving national team tournament. Brazil have not won it since 2007.

** Qatar have been drawn with political antagonists Saudi Arabia in next year’s Asian Cup Group E in the UAE along with Lebanon and North Korea.