The seventeenth edition of the Asian Cup has been full of surprises. There were thrilling goals, exciting contests and shocking results. Favourites South Korea were handed an early exit after losing 1-0 to dark horses in the last eight. Australia lost their chance to defend their crown when they were eliminated from the quarterfinals at the hands of underdogs United Arab Emirates (UAE).
But, while scintillating plays and unexpected results surely enticed the fans, the tournament, sadly, also witnessed a disgraceful episode which is now being touted as a new low in Asian football.
The spirits of the home side - UAE - were high as they went past one opponent after another to eventually set up a date with their bitter Gulf rivals Qatar in the semifinals. But, this was more than just a game. It was the 'Blockade Derby' as dubbed by many ahead of the fixture.
A regional political dispute in 2017 saw Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cutting all political, diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar. The quartet continues to accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and destabilising the region - the charges Doha has consistently denied. A land, air and sea blockade on Qatar also meant that the private jet carrying the 25-player Qatari squad took a longer route and had to fly to the UAE via Kuwait.
On the other hand, Qatari fans were also unable to attend the games and support their national team from the stands in the UAE, where showing sympathy for Qatar remains punishable with up to 15 years in jail.
However, despite all the political drama and hindrances, the Qatari travelled to the UAE to participate in a tournament - that holds a rich legacy in Asia - and play a sport - which unites people across the globe. And, it was probably the political problems in the Middle East that saw a charged-up Qatari side stealing UAE's thunder in their own backyard and securing a spot in the final.
Fans throwing shoes at the Qatari players after they score their 2nd goal ð² pic.twitter.com/zCxyhZeWOc— Jordan Gardner (@mrjordangardner) January 29, 2019
The home fans at the Mohammed Bin Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi had made their feelings clear when they booed the Qatar players and their national anthem before the game began. But, Boualem Khoukhi's strike in the 22nd minute didn't just shut the home fans, but probably got them agitated. And, as soon as Almoez Ali scored the second goal for Qatar 15 minutes later, the UAE fans began throwing shoes from the stands to interrupt the Qatari forward's celebration.
They don't deserve to host the asian cup if that's how they behave !! No manners and no sport spirit— M (@Mazaaaj) January 29, 2019
From there on, every player that went to take corners for Qatar had to regularly deal with projectiles of shoes and bottles being thrown from the stands. And, things got worse for the hosts in the 80th minute when Hassan al-Haydos added a third in the 80th minute with a chip over the UAE goalkeeper.
Insult was added to indignity in stoppage time when UAE defender Ismail Ahmed was sent off following a VAR intervention for an elbow to the face of Salem Al-Hajri before Hamid Ismail's goal sealed the game for his side.
This is bullsh*t, if this was fifa, they'd place a ban..and Fifa is trash!
This is unacceptable, I can't count the number of times I have cursed at Messi #Russia2018 but I'll never throw shoes, it only ruins the game for everyone
Following the fourth goal and a certain defeat of their team, the UAE fans erupted in anger, throwing more shoes and water bottles at the Qatari players who were celebrating their progress to the tournament's final where they'll take on four-time champions Japan on 1st February.
Bad attitude reflects their behavior ,no wonder this is UAE— Fatima Al-Abdulla (@fmalabdulla) January 30, 2019
The demeanor of the UAE fans was not only unacceptable, but also disrespectful for the sport. Even if there are allegations against Qatar for supporting terrorism, the footballers playing on the pitch should be treated with respect. The Qatari players were just representing their country like the UAE side. And, most importantly, the political drama should not devour the spirit of the game.