In 2019 Qatar won their first-ever AFC Asian Cup title with a 3-1 victory over four-time, sixteen-year reigning champion, Japan. It was an exciting and dramatic tournament, but for more than what many football fans outside of the region may have realized. Two years earlier, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar, severing diplomatic relations and banning Qatar-registered planes and ships from utilizing their airspace, sea routes, or land border crossings. Qatar rejected the blockade demands of its neighbors, and as the embargo persisted, relationships in the region continued to sour.
You can imagine then, how much pride was on the line during the first major football tournament between the conflicting countries. The buildup to the AFC Cup was ripe with blockade tensions, particularly between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Qatari fans, organizers, even the AFC Vice-President were barred by the Emiratis from entering the UAE, even though the final match was held at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. When Qatar came out on top, the country erupted into a week long celebration, with one of the most epic homecoming parades I’ve ever seen.