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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Qatar Football: The Italians’ Desert Safari!

by Wanderer

In less than 36 hours, Qatar will get their second taste of vintage Italian football.

For only the second time in their 110-year-old journey, Italian giants AC Milan will visit the country for a friendly game, against local powerhouses Al Sadd. The match, scheduled to be played on Wednesday at the club grounds, is organised as a testimonial event for their long-serving captain Jafal Rashid Al Kuwari. The only other time AC Milan has visited Qatar was in December 2002, when they locked horns against a select Qatar national side.

Final Game for Beckham?

AC Milan, the eighth wealthiest club in the world, will field their first-string team in Qatar. It’ll be a rare treat for Qatari fans, who will see the past – Ronaldinho and David Beckham, the present – Kaka, and future –Pato, all on their favourite ground. With his return to the MLS League looming nearer, this could also be Beckham’s final game for the Italian side. All these factors have whetted audience interest considerably.

Qatar are no strangers to international football stars in their midst. The Qatar League, which started in 1974, has seen many of the world’s prominent players in it. Former Argentinian superstar Gabriel Batistuta, Brazilian World Cup winner Romario and Dutch twin sensations Frank and Ronald de Boer have all spend a part of their career here.

Promoting the Country

AC Milan’s trip to the country is not surprising. Qatar, with their ambitions of becoming the Middle East’s sports capital, has always encouraged staging of high-profile events. The football game at Al Sadd is just the latest in a series of steps taken to project the country as a favourable destination for big events.

From a marketing perspective, the AC Milan clash has already become a successful. Ticket sales have been brisk and the cash registers have not stopped ringing. If the initial bookings are any indication, the stadium will resemble the final of the 2006 Doha Asian Games, where Qatar beat Iraq to win the gold medal for the first time in history. On Wednesday, all roads will lead to Al Sadd Stadium.

Poor Timing for Al Sadd

However, from the club coach’s perspective, the timing of the game could not have been more unfortunate. Al Sadd, who are engaged in a three-way battle with Al Rayyan and Al Gharafa for the Qatar Stars League title, has lost their focus. They lost to Qatar SC 1-3 in the League last week.

“We have a very young team. I suspect that they had been thinking more about their game against AC Milan, which led them to lose focus on the field against Qatar SC. We paid the price for it. The League is at a crucial and decisive phase now and we cannot afford to make mistakes. I hope that my boys can do better in the remaining matches,” he had said at the post match Press conference.

Improving Standards

Even at the youth level, several international teams including Chelsea, AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid have visited and played friendly games against ASPIRE Academy students. Football aficionados in Qatar will fervently hope that the AC Milan visit will open the floodgate for more European teams to visit Qatar. In addition to attracting a good crowd, it could go a long way in improving the game’s standard in the country.