Saudi fans in the UAE gripped by significance of opening game
As the Fifa World Cup 2018 kicked off with a match between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, football fans in the UAE were gripped to the action, despite a disappointing 5-0 defeat for the kingdom.
In the World Cup tent at Fairmont The Palm in Dubai, deafening cheers and riotous applause greeted the Saudi side as they trotted on to the pitch.
Mustafa Al Saedi, a 50-yearold Saudi, flew to Dubai three days ago to watch the match, and celebrate Eid.
Pointing happily to the Saudi flag above his table, he said: “It’s a massive achievement for the Saudi team to play at the World Cup. The team has been preparing for the match for months.”
Mr Al Saedi broke his fast while watching the match at the World Cup tent.
This year marks Saudi Arabia’s fifth appearance in the World Cup after their first qualification in 1994. The last time the Saudi team too part in this festival of football was 2006.
Mr Al Saedi’s daughter, Fatima, wasn’t usually interested in football, but this match was one of a kind.
“I am proud of the Saudi team. It does not matter who scores more. What matters to me is that the Saudis are playing in the World Cup,” said the 26-year-old clinical instructor.
With Russia scoring twice in the first half, Ahmed Al Jahni, a 24-year-old Saudi, was a bit disappointed. “I believe reaching here is a great achievement, but I want my team to score goals,” he said.
“I am here to cheer the ‘green team’ and support my country. I will always support them, regardless of who scores more and wins today.”
Issa Aghabi, a Jordanian investor, 35, said: “It will be really cool if Saudi wins today’s game.”
“Everyone is talking about the Egyptian team this year. I like the Egyptian player Mohammed Salah. But let’s see who will win this year,” said Mr Aghabi.
As Saudi Arabia conceded more goals, 28-year-old Mohammed Abdul Aziz’s screams got louder across the tent.
“I just can’t believe it. I thought the team would perform better,” he said of his side. “Players made misjudgements and missed so many chances to score.”
In Abu Dhabi, Haitham Yasin and his friends Saahil Giddebhai and Mohammed Issa had the Marina Mall cinema completely to themselves to watch the opening match of play out on the big screen.
As 16-year-olds, they were too young to join their compatriots in Abu Dhabi’s bars or shisha cafes. But as Saudis, they felt they had an obligation to support their team.
They had bought their VIP tickets minutes before iftar and settled into the top row of seats in time to watch Russia score the first goal.
The only drinks in sight were three slushies that remained untouched until 7.15pm. Inside the chilly mall, there
We should be partying but we’re waiting for Eid and tomorrow will feel like the first day of the World Cup
was no call to the prayer to tell them that they could take their iftar. With the commentator’s voice booming through the otherwise empty cinema, the Saudi teenagers kept patiently checking their glowing mobiles.
And in the capital, suhoor tents have been quickly converted into World Cup centres – the dangling crescents and stars have been replaced with footballs and team flags.
At the Sofitel, the Al Barza Ramadan tent had been renamed the Sofitel Football Fanzone and big screens played the match as people enjoyed their iftar.
“We should be partying for the opening of the World Cup but we’re still in the Ramadan mood,” said Saber Belghith, 33. “We’re waiting for Eid and tomorrow will feel like the first day of the World Cup.”
Sultan Alturkistani, left, Raed Saidi, Badi Saidi and their father Mustafa Saidi, right, are set to cheer their side, Saudi Arabia, at the Fairmont Hotel on The Palm