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. They were later joined by Jordan, the Maldives, Mauritania, Senegal, Djibouti, the Comoros, Yemen, and even the Tobruk-based government in Libya. 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 sporting event between the conflicting countries. The buildup to the AFC Cup was filled to the brim with blockade tensions, especially between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Qatari fans, organizers and, most notably, AFC Vice-President Saoud al-Mohannadi, were barred by the Emirati authorities from entering the UAE, despite the final matches being held at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
The hostilities were on full display in the semi-finals between Qatar and the UAE in what’s often referred to as the ‘Blockade Derby’. Leading up to the match, the UAE’s Prince Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan purchased all remaining tickets to distribute to UAE fans, forcing Qatar to face an entirely hostile home crowd. The match itself was marred by bottle and footwear-throwing incidents, along with a booing of the Qatari national anthem. Immediately following the match, the UAE Football Association disputed their loss with a formal appeal to the AFC over the residency eligibility of a Qatari player. The AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee dismissed the protest and issued the UAE a $150,000 fine for the events surrounding the match.
It was an enormous victory for Qatar. The country went into an absolute frenzy and every Qatari citizen in the country took to the streets with flags, honking Landrovers, and Shumela Shumela on repeat. Doha went into celebration mode for the entire week as the country began prepping for the final match against Japan. When Qatar came out on top with a 3-1 victory to win the tournament, the country once again erupted into chaos. The gallery below depicts the final moments of that match, followed by the gridlock on the corniche and homecoming parade for the players the next day.