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Australia and New Zealand face on and off the field Arabian Gulf football rivalries

Australia and New Zealand face on and off the field Arabian Gulf football rivalries
November 13, 2009

Over the next few days, the fortunes of both Australia and New Zealand's national football teams will be tied up in games with Arabian Gulf nations.

On Saturday, New Zealand will take on Bahrain in the second leg of its FIFA World Cup qualifying play-off, where a win will see the All Whites qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals for only the second time. Meanwhile, Australia will be in Oman in the penultimate game of their Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup qualifying campaign.

Saturday will also see England take on Brazil, not at London's Wembley Stadium or Rio De Janeiro's Maracana but at the Khalifa International Stadium in the Qatari capital of Doha.

The game is a key part of Qatar's bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where it is a bidding rival to Australia.

With a population of just over 1.3 million people, around two-thirds of whom are expatriates, Qatar would be the smallest nation to host a FIFA World Cup. It also currently only offers sporting venues in its Aspire Zone, with its 50,000-capacity Khalifa International Stadium and the Aspire Dome, the world's largest indoor sports venue.

However, Qatar's size is being presented as a key feature of the bid. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, son of the Emir of Qatar and Chairman of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Bid Committee explains, "our World Cup proposal will also focus on the fan experience.

"I know from personal experience that it is not easy travelling around a country, changing hotels so that you can support your team during a World Cup tournament.

"The compact size of our nation - and therefore our proposal - will give fans the opportunity to see every match, without the need for that travel and hotel changes.

"It will be highly organised, so there will be hardly any need for commuting between matches."

Since hosting the 2006 Asian Games, Qatar has focused on successfully winning, executing and hosting numerous major sporting events. It has just hosted the Sony Ericsson WTA Championships and this month is also hosting the FIVB Club World Volleyball Championship. In the coming years it will stage the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships and, in 2011, both the 12th Pan-Arab Games and the Asian Cup.

Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani is also seeking to draw on support from the entire Arab world, positioning the Qatari bid as an opportunity to bridge sporting, cultural and political divisions between the Arab and western worlds.

As he explains "Qatar's bid to host the World Cup in 2022 offers an historic opportunity to bring people from all around the world together in friendship and unity."

Associated with Saturday's England v Brazil clash, the Qatari authorities have created an 18,000 metre2 'fan festival', the size of almost three football pitches, greeting fans as they arrive at the Khalifa Stadium.

The fan festival, which opens at 3pm on match day (ahead of the 8pm kick-off) will run until late evening and will have three distinct entertainment villages that capture the essence of Brazil, England and Qatar. The aim, say organisers, is to enable fans to experience the unique sights, sounds and flavours of each country in a fun, family friendly atmosphere.

Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani adds âQatar is enormously proud to be hosting two great national teams.

"We want all fans to enjoy themselves, have fun and experience first-hand a warm Arab welcome that will leave them amazed ... and I'm sure the fan festival will help to do this."

Qatar's Aspire Zone is featured in the November/December 2009 issue of Australasian Leisure Management.

Lower image shows Doha's Khalifa International Stadium.





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