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UAE ban fails to dampen celebrations for triumphant Qatari fans

Wednesday January 30, 2019
Eric Knecht

Qataris soccer fans celebrate after their team defeated United Arab Emirates in the AFC Asian Cup, in Doha, Qatar January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

DOHA (Reuters) – Flag-waving Qataris celebrated around the country after their soccer team thrashed hosts United Arab Emirates 4-0 in a politically charged match to reach the Asian Cup final on Tuesday.

Qataris have been barred from attending matches as the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, cut political and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations Doha supports terrorism — a charge Qatar denies.

The pitch-side ban did little to dampen the celebratory mood within Qatar as thousands of fans gathered around large outdoor screens to follow their team’s charge into Friday’s final.

“We’re not able to be there with them but we’re out here to support them,” said 25-year-old Muhammad Al-Noeimi “We were all trying to go.”Ads By Google

The tiny but wealthy state has largely weathered the boycott, striking new trade deals and charting a more independent course away from its traditional Gulf allies, but the bitter political rift shows no sign of abating.

When Qatari striker Almoez Ali put Qatar 2-0 ahead, fans at a screening along a seaside corniche burst into noisy celebrations. When a camera panned to a despondent Emirati fan, the crowd cheered even louder.

The political undertones of the match even drew in Qataris who usually have no interest in soccer.

“There are tons of things in life that are far more important than football, but this match is about Qatar against the UAE, so for us, this is really important,” said Jassem, who declined to give his full name.

In Friday’s final against Japan, Qatar will be eager to prove their credentials before making their World Cup debut in 2022 when they host the global competition.

“Despite us not having any fans there (in UAE) our hearts were with them. And the team there felt the same thing, that this is an injustice because the Qatari fans are not allowed to attend,” said 45-year-old Nasser Ben Ali.

“I think this pushed them to be stronger and play even better.”

Reporting by Eric Knecht, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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