It rained for the first time in three years when we arrived in Doha, for the FIFA World Club Championship this week. A day after arrival, we made our way to the impressive Al Khalifa Stadium for the semi-final tie between Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and Brazil’s Flamengo.
We had hopped into the metro rapid transit system (what in South Africa is known as the Gautrain) in downtown and I was quite amazed by the similarities between the two rail systems. They are convenient, comfortable and efficient.
And just like in South Africa when the Gautrain was opened prior to the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first phase of the Doha train system was also opened in May 2019 in preparation of the FIFA World Club Championship and has three lines which is approximately 76km in length and consists of 37 stations.
Boarding at West bay Central, we cruised leisurely underground until we reached Msheireb where we changed lanes and boarded the gold line that took us to the Sport City, the station from where you can literally walk to the Al Khalifa.
But then we bumped into delirious Esperance supporters at the metro station, singing uproariously and waving their blood and gold flags, celebrating their 6-2 annihilation of local side Al Sadd which was for position fifth in the tournament.
The Tunisian blood and gold had lost their quarterfinal match 1-0 to Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal, which was rather disappointing from an African perspective seeing that only TP Mazembe and Raja Casablanca are the two sides that have reached the final of this competition.
Let me point out that I felt cheated by Flamengo. I expected the boys from Brazil to samba. I expected them to effortlessly do the shoe-shuffle and danced with the ball in a rhythmic fashion that would be reminiscent of Ruud Gullit’s sexy football.
But if anything, Al Hilal proved that football in both Asia and the Gulf States has improved a hundred fold as they made the Brazilians to look ordinary, turning them and even doing the shibobo against the famed Flamengo!
To further compound my misery, Al Hilal took the lead through Salem Aldawsari’s strike to silence the 22000 strong crowd made up of mostly Brazilians that have trekked across the Atlantic to support the maroon and black clad Flemango.
Flamengo were looking awful. In the first 45 minutes, they had taken only a single shot at goal, little wonder they were a goal down. Al Hilal meanwhile looked the part and one sensed an upset looming.
But then Flamengo came back invigorated. They were a little aggressive going forward an added a little bite to their tackles while adding a slice of the samba in their play, a flick here and a back heel there to indicate that they have reverted back to their roots and style of play.
Bruno Henrique inspired a fight back as he set up two goals and added the third to ensure Flamengo ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. As we headed back home, the rain continued to pour down on us; we didn’t care but savored the triumph of Flamengo and animatedly discussed the goals, the movements and the prospect of a final between them and England’s Liverpool on Saturday.