DOHA: Qatari businessman Youssef Al-Taher gathered 10 friends at his desert oasis to watch the national team’s last-gasp bid to stay in the World Cup end in defeat. Senegal’s 3-1 win did not matter, he said stoically as the group digested the early exit from a competition Qatar has spent tens of billions of dollars preparing. Qatar was a “winner” just for putting on the 32-nation event which is predicted to bring more than one million fans to the Gulf state, according to the 53-year-old businessman.
“The real victory is to successfully host the World Cup. It is enough to be proud today that the whole world is watching us.” Taher invited his friends to his men-only lounge at his farmhouse surrounded by palm trees at Al-Jamiliya, 40 km from Doha. The farm in the desert produces tomatoes, cucumbers and dates. A large Qatar flag hung on the spacious building, surrounded by smaller flags for Brazil, France, Saudi Arabia and other World Cup nations. Inside, comfortable seats were lined up in rows in front of a giant screen.
But while in Europe armchair fans might have beer and pies, Taher and his friends ate dates and sipped Arabic coffee and tea. “Qatar is taking part for the first time and we are proud whether it wins or not,” said Taher, dressed in a traditional Arab white robe. Sports historian Sultan Al-Jassem, said “Qatar has become the focus of the world’s attention”. “In the past, half of the world did not know where Qatar is. Now Qatar has become the most famous country in the world to host this tournament,” said the 59-year-old.
The group shouted “haram!” (disgrace), when the referee turned down a first half penalty. At half-time, with Qatar trailing by a goal, Taher and his friends joined farm workers from his estate to perform afternoon prayers in a mosque adjoining his home. They cheered when Mohammed Muntari headed Qatar’s first World Cup goal. Their hearts sank when Senegal made it 3-1. After losing to Ecuador in their opening game, it meant there was no hope of the Asian champions reaching the second round.
Taher’s brother Nasir Al-Taher, a diplomat, found the right words. “We are not waiting for a sporting victory, we have already achieved a political, social and economic victory,” said the 63-year-old. The World Cup, he said, has “put Qatar on the world map”. Taher said “criticism is something that motivates us to move forward. On the contrary, it is natural and healthy to take criticism and then adjust course”.
Jassem supported the government’s position that “everyone is welcome” but Qatar’s culture must be respected. “There are red lines,” he said. Jassem acknowledged, however, that preparing for the World Cup has changed the face of Qatar. With the construction of a new metro system, hotels, major roads, stadiums and office skyscrapers, “as a Qatari, I am surprised to see something new every day. The World Cup has developed our country’s capabilities,” he added. Silence engulfed the lounge after the final whistle, but Taher sought to lift the gloom with a burst of optimism. “The honor of organizing is a crown and a cup for us. We are winners despite the loss.” – AFP