When Qatar announced hosting the World Cup, I nagged my brother about attending as we missed many World Cups before for excuses that included long distance and Islamophobia. I even signed up with the Fifa website to make sure that I know when the ticket sale starts. Once they were on, my brother booked us tickets to watch Japan (his favourite team) Vs. Spain match but kept complaining about how hectic it would be as we didn’t get a hotel confirmation. I was in two minds of who to support as we were booked to sit with the Japanese yet my heart was with the team of my Segunda Patria. Every time I teased my brother with the song “Yo soy Español!” my brother would smile and tell me that I’d change my mind once I meet the Japanese supporters. So, On the 1st of December, we left in the afternoon and arrived an hour and fifteen minutes later. The place was crowded with thousands of spectators, especially from Latin America. The official songs were playing everywhere in a loop as if we were caught in an endless nightmare.
There were three other matches that day, including Germany Vs. Costa Rica that was at the same time as ours. The metro ride to the stadium was a smooth one and allowed me to meet the supporters from both teams. It was pure East Vs. West attitudes. While the Japanese- in their elaborate costumes and make-up — took the time to thank all their foreign supporters and pose for pictures and videos, the Spanish gathered in groups of their own and did what they do best: act like typical Spaniards. They looked baffled noticing all the none-Spanish-looking people carrying their flags or wearing their football shirts: weren’t they enough to support their own compatriots? This was the deciding factor of who I was going to support. The match was played on the humongous Khalifa International Stadium. Before taking our seats, there was a Japanese man who kept bowing respectfully before giving out a blue balloon-shaped plastic bag to his fellow citizens. They were trash bags that the Japanese spectators would later use to clean their section of the stadium (while the rest of the world shamelessly took videos of them instead of helping).
The Japanese cheerleaders kept drumming away like Energiser bunnies throughout the game while the rest of the supporters sang their lungs out: “O Nipon!” As for the Spanish with their “Red Tide” flag hanging on one side, they contributed three rounds of Mexican waves that were fun at first but distracting by the end. Watching a live game is a confusing experience as everything seems to be happening at the same time: the match played, the cheering, the score of Germany Vs. Costa Rica game, the instant ranking of teams based on their performances and waiting for goals to be checked by VAR. At the first half of the game and after securing their only goal, the Spaniards followed the Brazilian school example of faking injuries and wasting time rolling on the ground. However, in the second half the Japanese managed to score two consecutive goals within the first ten minutes that sent the Spaniards into a panic mode. The game ended with 2-1 score and a happy ending for both teams as they qualified to the round of 16. After the exciting game, the Japanese coach and his team came out to salute their supporters. We left to the airport and had a 7-hours wait before flying home. Though exhausting, yet a once-in-a-life-time experience that’s truly worth it.
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja. firstname.lastname@example.org