A new golden era for Arab football at the Qatar World Cup 2022

The tournament is showing how global the game really is

The Middle East has had a number of victories at this year's tournament. Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Last week, Saudis enjoyed one of their most joyous public holidays. The cheer was amplified by the fact that it was an entirely unexpected day off. Their national team had just beaten Argentina 2-1 in the group phase of the Qatar World Cup. The government deemed it important enough to merit a holiday.

The win was a vindication of their team's hard work, the support of fans and, above all else, football, the global appeal of which crosses continents, language groups and cultures more than any other sport.

Speaking to The National, Sami Al Jaber – the Saudi star who was part of the 1994 team that defeated Morocco and Denmark – said that his country's new mentality would prove decisive. Whatever happens next, there is no denying that the victory will have shifted a mindset for a generation of players.

On Sunday it was a similar feeling in Morocco, after its team beat Belgium 2-0. The head coach, Walid Regragui, said that his team will improve further and now "can do anything". Morocco could reach the knockout round of a World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Perhaps the joy was most concentrated in these victorious countries. But it has also extended to the entire Arab world. This is elevated by the fact the tournament is being held in the region. Qatar's team might not be going through to the next stage, but it has pulled off a truly global World Cup, arguably the biggest victory of all.

It has been a centre of Arab pride, and one of the best reminders in years of the bonds that Arab culture forges across a vast landmass. For other regional countries, the 2022 World Cup is not just Qatari; it is fundamentally Arab. The presence and cheering of the Qatari ruling family at games involving regional teams is only one example of this being the case.

For people from further afield, watching world-class football in Doha, while maybe staying in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, shows the dynamism of the Gulf's society, economy and tourism industry, from its aviation sector to its expansive hotels, and, most of all, it spreads the message of its hospitable spirit. With the Gulf geographically and economically at the centre of this World Cup, the GCC region is yet again affirming its reputation as a modern powerhouse.

Football might be a game that started in the West. But it has been loved by the world for decades. With this in mind, it is high time interest in the game goes beyond the most famous western leagues and national teams. This World Cup has pushed that process along. Underdog nations, not just from the Middle East, have surpassed expectations on a number of occasions. Perhaps interest will now grow for less famous domestic leagues around the world.

Most of all, the Qatar World Cup is spreading footballing confidence around the world. Who knows how many Arab victories there will be in the next World Cup. It will quite possibly be more than we have seen this time round. Qatar 2022, inside and outside the stadiums, has been one of the strongest signs of this transition in years.

Published: November 29, 2022, 3:00 AM