Arab teams turn Qatar World Cup into a ‘home’ tournament

DOHA: Number of Arab teams have turned Qatar World Cup into a home tournament. Like thousands of other Saudi fans, Muhammad al-Dabbagh travelled by car last week to Qatar to watch live the first-ever World Cup to be held in the Middle East. “Had it not been in Qatar,” he said, “it would not have been so convenient, or affordable for me to attend a World Cup.”

And had he not made the road journey via the Abu Samra border crossing, he would not have witnessed Saudi Arabia lighting up the tournament with a massive upset against Argentina. The Green Falcons’ 2-1 over the two-time champions on Tuesday set off wild celebrations, with overjoyed Saudi fans flooding all major tourist attractions and fan zones in Qatar. Quickly, it turned into an all-Middle Eastern party.

At the heart of it all was Doha’s Souq Waqif, where fans from different countries had gathered in a large group with their respective flags, joining in the singing and dancing. Chief among them were Qataris, who were happy to play second fiddle at their neighbours’ party after the hosts’ national team lost to Ecuador in the tournament’s opener.

“We are not sad that Qatar lost, we are happy that Saudi Arabia won,” said Bassam Muhammad, a Qatari student, as others walked by waving the flags of both countries, which restored full relations in early 2021 after a years-long diplomatic rift. Just hours after the Saudi win on Tuesday, Tunisia pulled its own weight to hold the higher-ranked Denmark to a surprise 0-0 draw at the Education City Stadium.

Most of the more than 40,000 or so fans in attendance were rooting for the team from North Africa. Amine, a Tunisian fan, thinks that the Arab unity on display among the supporters is not strange to see.

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