A political dispute in the Gulf will play out for the second time at the Asian Cup when Qatar meet hosts the United Arab Emirates in the semi-final on Tuesday, Reuters reports.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt have imposed a diplomatic, trade and transport boycott of Qatar since June 2017 over allegations Doha supports terrorism, a charge Qatar denies.
Qatar is expected to face a hostile crowd at the sold out 43,000-seat Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, where the emirate’s sport authority offered free tickets to UAE fans.
Qatari nationals, who previously traveled freely in the Gulf, are banned from entering the UAE unless they receive a special permit. But the team has seen support from some Omanis, whose country has taken a neutral stand in the row.
Qatar has played impressive football so far this tournament including defeating Saudi Arabia as well as Asian powerhouse South Korea to secure a place in their semi-final, now their best ever performance.
Coach Felix Sanchez has played down the impact of the dispute, saying that Qatar’s “focus is only on the games”. The Maroons have said they are keen to prove they are worthy of a World Cup 2022 debut.
The UAE, who beat champions Australia in the quarter-final, will hope to replicate their 1996 performance when as hosts they reached the final.
“The game itself is arguably one of the most high profile Asian football matches in history,” said Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at Britain’s Salford Business School.
“The regional feud has drawn attention, but so too has the progress of the two teams playing in it. Tomorrow is an opportunity for both to showcase their talents.”
Abu Dhabi Police have asked crowds to behave in a sportsmanlike and civilised manner in an Instagram post on Sunday which did not specifically mention the Qatar-UAE match.
Qatar’s team was jeered by fans before their group match against Saudi Arabia which the Maroons won 2-0. (Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, editing by Pritha Sarkar)