A new golden era for Arab football at the Qatar World Cup 2022

The tournament is showing how global the game really is



The Middle East has had a number of victories at this year's tournament. Reuters
The Middle East has had a number of victories at this year’s tournament. Reuters

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Last week, Saudis enjoyed one of their most joyous public holidays. The cheer was amplified by the fact that it was an entirely unexpected day off. Their national team had just beaten Argentina 2-1 in the group phase of the Qatar World Cup. The government deemed it important enough to merit a holiday.

The win was a vindication of their team’s hard work, the support of fans and, above all else, football, the global appeal of which crosses continents, language groups and cultures more than any other sport.

Speaking to The National, Sami Al Jaber – the Saudi star who was part of the 1994 team that defeated Morocco and Denmark – said that his country’s new mentality would prove decisive. Whatever happens next, there is no denying that the victory will have shifted a mindset for a generation of players.

On Sunday it was a similar feeling in Morocco, after its team beat Belgium 2-0. The head coach, Walid Regragui, said that his team will improve further and now “can do anything”. Morocco could reach the knockout round of a World Cup for the first time since 1986.

A scrum of players follow the flight of the ball during the World Cup Qatar 2022 Group H match between Portugal and Uruguay. Portugal won 2-0. AFP
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo is followed by a crowd of photographers before kick-off. Reuters
Uruguay defender Mathias Olivera fights for possession against Portugal midfielders Bernardo Silva, left, and   Bruno Fernandes. AFP
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates with teammates Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, after Fernandes scored his team's first goal against Uruguay. AFP
Casemiro, left, celebrates with Vinicius Junior. Getty Images
Brazil beat Switzerland 1-0. AFP
Fans have been cheering on the Brazilians. EPA
Thiago Silva celebrates the win. Getty Images
Goalkeeper Alisson will be happy with a clean sheet for Brazil. EPA
Supporters believe they can pick up their sixth World Cup triumph. AFP
Brazil fans in Doha. AFP
Brazil's Vinicius Junior, second from right, had a goal disallowed by VAR. AP Photo
Swiss fans roared on their team. Getty Images
Samba supporters are in town. AP Photo
Brazil's Lucas Paqueta, left, and Switzerland's defender Ricardo Rodriguez. AFP
Switzerland fans in the stands. PA
Switzerland's goalkeeper Yann Sommer put in a good shift, put couldn't keep a clean sheet. AFP
Brazil have supporters in numbers. AFP
Fans at the Fifa Fan Fest in Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. AFP
South Korea supporters arrive at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, north-west of Doha. AFP
Ghana fans inside the Education City Stadium before the match against South Korea. Reuters
England's Harry Kane warms up with teammates. Getty Images
South Korean fans are out in good numbers to watch their team. Reuters
Stadium 974 will host Brazil and Switzerland in Doha on Monday. Getty Images
Son Heung-min is South Korea's talisman and captain. Reuters
Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar scores their second goal. Reuters
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic celebrates taking the lead for Serbia. AFP
Cameroon's Pierre Kunde and Serbia's Nemanja Maksimovic. AP Photo
Cameroon and Serbia fans arrive for the Group G match at Al Janoub Stadium. EPA
A Serbia fan cheers outside the stadium in Al Wakrah. EPA
Performers set the mood for the game. EPA
An Arabian coffee seller waits for customers in Doha. AP
There was a jovial atmosphere outside the stadium in the build up to the game. EPA
A Cameroon fan waves his flag inside the stadium. Reuters
A fan of Serbia gets his face painted in national colours. EPA
Cameroon goalkeeper Devis Epassy inspects the pitch. Getty
The Dutch team training. Reuters
Australia coach Graham Arnold speaks to the media at Aspire Training Ground in Doha. Getty
Australia player Harry Souttar at the media session. Getty
Australia player Keanu Baccus at the media session in Doha. Getty

A scrum of players follow the flight of the ball during the World Cup Qatar 2022 Group H match between Portugal and Uruguay. Portugal won 2-0. AFP

Perhaps the joy was most concentrated in these victorious countries. But it has also extended to the entire Arab world. This is elevated by the fact the tournament is being held in the region. Qatar’s team might not be going through to the next stage, but it has pulled off a truly global World Cup, arguably the biggest victory of all.

It has been a centre of Arab pride, and one of the best reminders in years of the bonds that Arab culture forges across a vast landmass. For other regional countries, the 2022 World Cup is not just Qatari; it is fundamentally Arab. The presence and cheering of the Qatari ruling family at games involving regional teams is only one example of this being the case.

For people from further afield, watching world-class football in Doha, while maybe staying in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, shows the dynamism of the Gulf’s society, economy and tourism industry, from its aviation sector to its expansive hotels, and, most of all, it spreads the message of its hospitable spirit. With the Gulf geographically and economically at the centre of this World Cup, the GCC region is yet again affirming its reputation as a modern powerhouse.


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Football might be a game that started in the West. But it has been loved by the world for decades. With this in mind, it is high time interest in the game goes beyond the most famous western leagues and national teams. This World Cup has pushed that process along. Underdog nations, not just from the Middle East, have surpassed expectations on a number of occasions. Perhaps interest will now grow for less famous domestic leagues around the world.

Most of all, the Qatar World Cup is spreading footballing confidence around the world. Who knows how many Arab victories there will be in the next World Cup. It will quite possibly be more than we have seen this time round. Qatar 2022, inside and outside the stadiums, has been one of the strongest signs of this transition in years.



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