Due to the ongoing Gulf blockade, Qataris are banned from entering the United Arab Emirates. So good luck spotting the Qatari fans when UAE takes on Qatar in the AFC Asian Cup semifinals on Tuesday, as the host has gone to greats lenghts to ensure no pro-Qatari supporters sneak in.
In a telling turn of events, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council has snapped up all remaining tickets to give away to “loyal UAE fans”, it said in a tweet.
Long queues formed as supporters waited for their free tickets, but only people holding Emirati identification were eligible. The move appears aimed at preventing a repeat of Qatar’s last-16 game with Saudi Arabia, the UAE’s staunch ally, when Omani fans turned up to cheer on the Maroons.
It also highlights seething tensions between Qatar and UAE, one of a group of countries enforcing a diplomatic and transport blockade of the 2022 World Cup host for allegedly supporting terrorism - a claim Doha denies.
The result is that Abu Dhabi’s 42,000-capacity Mohamed Bin Zayed stadium will be not only a sell-out, but also nearly unanimously behind Alberto Zaccheroni’s white-clad team.
‘If we win we will cry’
Losing to Qatar in a home semifinal would be embarrassing for UAE. Seeing Qatar celebrating under its national flag in Abu Dhabi would be hard to stomach for the host, and would raise the thorny question of whether to let senior officials from the country attend.
The regional rivalry has permeated the tournament, which is only available to watch in UAE via Qatar’s subscription-only beIN Sports, which isn’t available even in official, tournament-approved hotels.
Qatari fans will, of course, be watching from afar. Qataris need prior permission to visit UAE, and with transport links cut they also need to travel via another country, complicating the journey.
“It’s not only me who wants to travel to the match, thousands of Qatari people want to watch the team,” Qatar fan Abdulrahman, a 25-year-old IT engineer, told AFP in Doha. “Of course, I won’t go. If I go I will have too many problems, it’s far too much trouble for us.”
He added: “If we win we are going to cry. We want to show the UAE that you blockaded us, you gave us too many problems, but you will never stop us.”
It’s not all enmity, however. On social media, many fans from both sides were sharing clips and interviews from before the crisis blew up in mid-2017, when people spoke of a united Gulf.
“If Qatar wins we will be happy, and if the UAE wins we will also be happy,” wrote Ahmed, who had a Saudi flag next to his Twitter handle. “The most important thing is that the cup will be won by a team from the Gulf. We are one Gulf, one nation.”
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