Arab football fans are rejoicing as the FIFA World Cup, which kicked off in Qatar on Sunday, is being held in the Middle East for the very first time.
Hundreds of supporters across the region are flying out to Doha for what they told Al Arabiya English is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch the highly anticipated event in person.
Palestinian national Tarik Joudah has watched every World Cup since 1998 and when he first heard that the tournament would be hosted in the Middle East, he knew he had to see it live.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially in the Middle East region,” he told Al Arabiya English from Doha.
“The moment it was announced that Qatar would be hosting the World Cup, I was so excited. I actually started planning a few years ago how it was going to work for me to go to Qatar as a fan and enjoy it live for the first time. This is like a dream come true to be there and witness every moment.”
For 26-year-old Hadi, the decision to fly from Kuwait – where he lives – to Doha was easy. The Iranian national bought tickets to see his home country Iran go up against England on November 21 and against the USA on November 29.
“We are here to watch Iran and we are hoping it would feel like a World Cup that is being held at home. So far, it feels exactly like that.”
“It’s great to see all that the region is capable of. As soon as we heard the news, we figured it might be the one and only opportunity we (the Middle East) have to host an event as big as the World Cup in the region,” Hadi told Al Arabiya English.
Despite online criticism, Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup is a perfect opportunity to showcase what the Middle East has to offer, UAE resident Jumana Fraije said.
“At the end of the day I’m super proud at how Qatar is managing it extremely well. I’m very happy, because we will never know when the next World Cup will take place in the Middle East.
As an Arab this is a big thing. To me, when I go to Qatar, I’m representing Arabs. [I am going] not just as a Lebanese, Palestinian or someone from the GCC. I am going there to represent an Arab who is very proud of the fact that the World Cup is happening in an Arab country like Qatar,” the 25-year-old told Al Arabiya English.
With 32 nations participating in the World Cup, the football tournament kicked off on November 20 and thousands of more fans from around the globe are expected to soon arrive in Doha.
A total of 64 matches will take place in eight stadiums during the month-long tournament: Lusail Stadium, Stadium 974, Al Thumama Stadium, Al Bayt Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Education City Stadium, and the Al Janoub Stadium.
The final – taking place on December 18 – will be held in the Lusail Stadium with the capacity to welcome 80,000 spectators.
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