Qatar set for hostile crowd in Asian Cup semi-final against UAE

Qatari fans unable to attend, as analysts criticise Emirati officials for ‘politicising’ Asian football tournament.

    Hamad al-Mansouri was sitting at a shisha cafe in Beirut watching his national Qatari football team take on South Korea in the quarter-finals of the AFC Asian Cup on TV.

    The 37-year-old jumped off his chair when Abdelaziz Hatim scored the match-winning goal, sending Qatar to the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time.

    Mansouri, like many other Qatari football fans, has been unable to attend the 24-nation tournament in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to a major diplomatic crisis.

    The tournament has been played against the backdrop of a regional dispute, which saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut political, diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar and impose a land, air and sea blockade on the Gulf nation in June 2017.

    And as Qatar gets ready to face the hosts and former finalists in front of a partisan home crowd in Abu Dhabi at 6pm local time (14:00 GMT) on Tuesday for a spot in the final, there is both anger and frustration among Qatari fans.

    “This is hurting us emotionally,” Mansouri told Al Jazeera. “But even if they actually allowed us to go, I wouldn’t go to the UAE because we are just so scared of being in that place. It’s so dangerous for us.”

    Showing sympathy for Qatar is punishable in the UAE, with a jail term of up to 15 years.

    ‘Politicising’ football

    Dubbed the Blockade Derby, the match is the first meeting between the two regional rivals since the start of the Gulf crisis.

    Free tickets were distributed among “loyal” Emirati fans on Sunday by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, which bought all the remaining ones for Tuesday’s semi-final.

    Meanwhile, non-Emiratis attempting to avail the free entry were turned away, UAE news outlet, The National reported.

    “The Emirati authorities are willing to do anything to get a win of any kind over Qatar,” said Mansouri.

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