Dowana Ismail Khalifa plays for the Qatar women’s national team. She is also a coach and one of the founders of Elite, a girls’ football academy. As part of the GOALS program, Dowana tells the story of her father’s support, the changes in women’s football in Qatar, and her work with the next generation of girls.

*All photos featured in this article were taken by Dowana Ismail Khalifa

My name is Dowana Ismail Khalifa, I am 30 years old and play football for the Qatar women’s national team. 

My family is from Sudan, but I was born and raised in Qatar.  I was lucky, I grew up in a household that lived and breathed football. I am passionate about football, and I have always known that my family has my back. I set my goals for the future and they supported me. Achieving these goals with my family’s support feels like my life’s purpose!

I remember watching my father play football on a local field in Doha when I was three years old. He would play with his friends, and he would take me along. It was then that I fell in love with football. I would sit there, watching him, and sometimes I could not resist interrupting the game. 

My father is and always will be my hero. There are endless reasons why. He introduced me to football and taught me; he has been there for me throughout my career. My father was my first coach!

Aged five, my father bought me a soccer ball and would take me to practice in the streets. We did not even have turf to play on, but it was worth it. He set a practice schedule for me, a routine, and I am forever grateful. 

This was so important, because when I was growing up football was for boys. I did not have the opportunity to play with girls, because generally it was not accepted. We could play in school or sometimes with our neighbors, but in general, we did not get to play. That is why my dad created these little practice days for me to enjoy what I love. In return I told him, “I want to be a pro-baller when I grow up.”

Professional football is also in my blood. My eldest brother Hamid Ismail joined Al-Sadd when he was five. He grew up to be one of the best players in Qatar and represented the Qatar National Team. He currently plays for Al-Arabi SC, but sadly will not be playing at the World Cup.

Hamid taught me so much, but above all, he taught me how to achieve your dreams by working hard, being consistent, and never giving up. Hamid always told me to enjoy my game, win, lose or draw. 

I remember seeing him score the 4th goal in the Asia Cup 2019 against the United Arab Emirates 40 seconds after he came on as a substitute! We celebrated like crazy, because we know how dedicated he is and it was well deserved. 

Throughout my football journey, I have met a lot of amazing coaches who have taken women’s football in Qatar to a different level. One example is Abdulaziz Bunji. He is one of the greatest coaches I have worked with. He was a father figure and a friend. He had an incredible impact on my career, improving me in so many ways. 

Abdulaziz would chat with every player before the training session, to understand their energy and how he would adapt the session accordingly. He introduced me to the mental side of the game as well as the technical skills. He taught me to visualize and helped me to see that being a master of the field was more than just dribbling and scoring goals. He took my frustrations and turned them into positive energy to improve my game. 

He told me, “You are the mind of this team. Turn your frustration into determination to be the best.”

Even outside the field, he was a mentor to me, a mentor I never knew I needed. He is such an experienced but humble person, and a great baller too! 

My values on the field are to be respectful and a true sportsperson.

To represent my country is a huge honor and it is also a weight on my shoulders. Perhaps what people do not fully appreciate is how hard it is to remain calm during a tough game, and how important it is to remain professional and focused whether you are winning or losing. 

I am inspired by professionals who keep calm and maintain respect. These values should be instilled in all young players from an early age and are the moral compass of the game: being humble, calm, and respectful whether you win, lose, or draw. 

I have always seen myself as a leader. I started pursuing a coaching career in 2021 and achieved my AFC B-License. I am currently seeking my A-License. It may take me some time, but my goal is to become the first Arab woman coaching in the Qatar Stars League. 

I am currently coaching a women’s team, and in June we entered the Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five tournament in Doha. Our team was called ‘Qatar 2021 Al Etihad’. We reached the semi-final where we lost 1-0 to Brazil. I was so proud of my team as it was the first time a Qatari women’s team had entered and we reached that far! I do not think people expected us to get so far. 

Qatar is different today, nowadays I can play football everywhere. Qatari football culture is changing. 

We have academies, tournaments, and leagues for girls – with support from the QFA and Qatar Women’s Sport Committee.

Through football, I have traveled all over the world playing and scoring goals with the Qatar women’s national team. I have lived my dream, and I am still dreaming big. Coach Helena Costa called me up for the national team when it was formed in 2009. I was only 18.  That was when I knew the time had come for me to fulfill my dream and represent my country. 

My favorite ever goal was scored here in Qatar, at Al Sadd stadium against the Maldives. My whole family was there, cheering me on, and I was so proud. 

It is incredible to see how mindsets are changing. We have so much support and I am so proud to travel and represent Qatar. My experience makes me want to give back to Qatari girls, as they are the future of football. 

That is why I have been working on a new girls’ academy project called “Elite”. Our mission is to give more girls the opportunity to pursue and achieve their goals through football. We will coach girls from age 5, teaching them the beautiful game. Our dream is for girls from Elite to go on to represent our national team. The name Elite was a word my mother chose for me, so it has a special meaning. 

My message to all girls coming up: “Follow what your heart desires.” Women can do the impossible. You can be a pro player, you can be a pro coach, it is all in your hands, take control of your future. 

I hope my story becomes an inspiration for little girls to follow their dreams. I also hope it inspires support for girls to have an equal playing field in achieving their dreams. 

This is the perfect year to launch Elite, our football culture will receive such a boost from the FIFA World Cup. 

Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup is truly a dream come true. Imagine watching, playing, and loving football your whole childhood and then growing up, playing football yourself, and then….getting to watch your heroes and the best players from around the world in front of your eyes. What a year!

I cannot wait to meet all the fans. Qatari culture is warm, hospitable, and traditional all at the same time. Qatar will welcome the world with open arms and the fans will enjoy Qatari culture and learn about us. I hope Qatar makes it to the Final! Nothing is impossible.