Dr. Joel Rookwood
The flights to Doha were booked without complication, accommodation was effortlessly secured, and match tickets were purchased with ease. My introductory experiences of international tournaments have rarely unfolded with such simplicity.
Faz and I arrived at the Khalifa Stadium in Doha last night genuinely excited at the prospect of witnessing the opening ceremony of the Asian Cup. The deafening and visually spectacular pre-match firework display, which would have impressed even the dourest Mancunian, seemed ideal preparation. What followed however was a comedy of errors: Qatar vs Uzbekistan.
I've never seen a stadium so disinterested in a football match. Faz and I might hail from Liverpool, a city with an almost idolatrous passion for the game, but this level of indifference to the sport is something you won't find in many places - even Milton Keynes.
The performance of the hosts made me long for a cessation of their national alcohol restrictions, or that I too had come dressed from head-to-toe in a thobe/gutra, if only to allow me to sleep without incurring suspicion. I would have shielded my face with the "Qatar" scarf I bought outside the ground, but it was covered in Arabic writing, which could mean anything. 'We hate football' would be the most suitable sentiment, but that was admittedly unlikely. I decided not to risk the facial disguise, and just en-joy/dure the game.
By contrast, the handful of travelling supporters made far more entertaining viewing. They actually watched the match, and I'm pretty sure they knew the rules. (Which probably helps explain why Uzbekistan's initial bid to host the 2022 World Cup finals got lost in the mail, somewhere over the Chatkal mountains).
Like any self-respecting European my knowledge of the Stans derives chiefly from watching Borat. I'm not certain whether Uzbekistan is one of those countries with 'inferior potassium' or if they are indeed a nation of 'assholes'. I'm quite sure however that many Qataris came to the latter conclusion tonight when the visitors had the audacity to defeat the hosts in the opening game. Not that the home supporters I spoke to were in buoyant mood before kick off - and with the game only minutes old, I was able to see why.
I saw Sudan play in the African Nations tournament in Ghana a few years back, and was almost sickened by their stark inability. As a more recent frame of reference, I'm a Liverpool season ticket holder, and we are managed (at the time of writing) by Roy Hodgson. Yet even by such lowly standards, this Qatar side are genuinely horrific.
Both teams spent the first half seemingly determined to avoid respectable pass completion rates. It was like watching two sides (both managed by Roy Hodgson) of overweight, partially sighted strangers play netball, at altitude, in the dark, on an ice rink, with a medicine ball. Occasionally a player would maintain possession by finding a team mate, but that was usually as a direct consequence of shooting, from inside his/her own half.
The visitors (who will probably win the tournament now after I have so publicly offered such disparaging remarks) clearly had the balance of ability and ideas. However, their refusal to capitalise on the gulf in capacity throughout the opening period triggered a host of conspiracy theories from yours truly.
Any suspicions that they might each have been offered a goat farm in return for a goalless draw were removed however, when the Uzbeks took the lead midway through the second half. As a second and final meaningful event of the evening, that lead was doubled thirteen minutes from time.
There's no point me telling you the goal scorer's name(s). I'd have to look up the details and I would probably not spell names correctly - and let's face it, neither of us really cares. Let's hope tonight's encounter at the Al Gharafa stadium (Scouse translation - 'Old Giraffe Ground') is an improvement, on the field at least. Oh wait, I’ve just scanned the match ticket - it says 'Bahrain v China'. Scrap the optimism - but stay with me, things can only improve.
© Dr. Joel Rookwood & Soccerphile.com
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