Saudi fans in the UAE gripped by sig­nif­i­cance of open­ing game

The National - News - - NEWS - NAWAL AL RAMAHI AND ANNA ZACHARIAS

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.”

An­tonie Robert­son / The Na­tional

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

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