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Thousands of Qataris celebrate greatest triumph
  • | AFP | February 02, 2019 05:41 AM
Celebrations were set to go on all weekend in Doha as thousands of jubilant Qataris took to the streets within minutes of the country's astonishing Asian Cup final victory Friday.

Qatari fans cheer after their national team won the final match against Japan during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup on Feb 1, 2019, in the Qatari capital Doha. (Photo: AFP/Karim Jaafar)

Huge crowds had gathered at several specially-built giant screens in Doha to watch the match against Japan, then converged on to the Corniche, one of the country's main roads, to noisily celebrate, many waving flags from their cars.

Traffic tailbacked as far as the eye could see as jubilant Qataris revelled in their their 3-1 victory.

Elsewhere in the city families celebrated by playing traditional Qatari music or celebrating with food.

"We are so happy, it is all too much," said Maher al-Baloushi, who had watched the game with his family among a huge crowd in a beachside district of the city known as Katara.

There a noisy alcohol-free -- and sometimes nervous -- crowd made up of Qataris and ex-pats from countries such as Pakistan, Italy, Oman and the United Kingdom cheered almost every ball as upstarts Qatar defied football logic to win their first ever Asian Cup.

"I am very proud, because Qataris cannot go (to the United Arab Emirates)," said Shehab, 17, referring to the ongoing political tensions between Qatar and its neighbouring former Gulf allies, including the UAE.

"This makes it better because it was so hard," he added.

Another Qatari, Saleh, disagreed.

The 31-year-old said that although he was "very happy", he was sad that he could not be in the stadium to watch the politically-tinged cup triumph.

"The problem today is that we cannot go there, to the Emirates, we have to watch from outside," said Saleh.

Since June 2017, a swathe of countries in the region have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, claiming it supports terrorism and is seeking better ties with Iran.

Qatar denies the charges and says it is being punished for pursuing an independent foreign policy.

It also accuses its rival neighbours of seeking regime change in Doha.

Very few, if any, Qataris have travelled to the UAE to watch matches, claiming they were fearful about what would happen to them in the current political climate.

One unnamed fan told AFP he feared ending up in prison if he travelled to Abu Dhabi, where the final was played.

But that did not dampen the jubilation in Doha, which was not even expected to reach a crescendo on Friday, but instead when the team arrives back in Doha on Saturday to a probable crowd of tens of thousands of people.

Saleh added that Qataris were happy because ex-pats, who make up almost 90 per cent of the population in the 2022 World Cup host country, had shown their support for the country during the political crisis and the Asian Cup.

"They are happy for me, it's like Qatar is their country," added Saleh.

"Inshallah, all the people support Qatar."

- 'It's everyone's victory' -

Among those foreigners cheering Qatar was Mohamed Yousuf Haliq, a crane operator from Pakistan, who has lived in the Gulf for 20 years.

"We are very happy, they are our Islamic brothers," he said with a big smile.

Close by in the massive crowd in Katara was Italian Vito Cerabona and his family including Scottish wife Jacqueline and their three daughters.

"We have been here 12 years, we consider this very much our home," said Vito.

"We feel like it's everyone's victory, particularly in the current climate.

"Qatar has been very dignified, they deserve this 100 per cent."

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