Doha, Qatar – It’s the primary time that 4 groups from Asia and Africa have made it to the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup. In-form Morocco are nonetheless within the fray. But for a lot of followers from these continents, together with the Middle East, there’s another excuse to have a good time the continuing match: It’s merely simpler and extra inexpensive to attend.
Saudi Arabia and India sit on the prime of the listing of nations with probably the most functions for Hayya Cards – which followers must enter Qatar for the World Cup – in accordance with figures launched by FIFA after the completion of the match’s group stage.
While Saudi Arabia performed on the World Cup and pulled off its first huge upset, beating Argentina 2-1, India has by no means come near qualifying for soccer’s premier occasion. Still, guests from India accounted for 34 p.c of the overall arrivals throughout the group levels.
Mohit Kayan, who got here to Doha from Mumbai, mentioned the reason being easy: the World Cup is in Qatar, on the Arabian Peninsula, which is a part of West Asia. “It’s a proud moment for all of us [Asians] that the continent is hosting its second World Cup [after Japan and South Korea in 2002], especially since it is so close to India,” Kayan informed Al Jazeera.
Kayan arrived in Doha for a match-day go to through Dubai, the place his associates joined him on a shuttle flight. “We arrived on the morning of the game, took a bus to the stadium and will now head back to Dubai after spending a few hours at the fan festival,” he mentioned.
Such ease of travel – getting from Mumbai to Doha takes solely so long as flying from the north of India to its southern cities – would have been unthinkable for followers like Kayan if the World Cup have been being held in Europe or South America.
Hayya Card holders with match tickets are exempt from needing a visa to enter Qatar. That, too, has helped, mentioned followers. Jin, a soccer fan from Malaysia, mentioned not having to fret a couple of difficult visa course of allowed him to persuade his associates to hitch him on his journey. “Visa requirements and flight costs have always held us back from attending the World Cup,” he mentioned.
Indeed, attending the 2026 World Cup – to be held collectively by the United States, Canada and Mexico – is already off the desk for Jin.
“The next World Cup is in North America, and flights alone would cost us more than what we have spent on our entire trip to Qatar, so we can’t even think about going there,” he mentioned.
The most cost-effective flight from Kuala Lumpur to Doha in early December price $700, in comparison with $1,900 for a flight to New York City.
For others, like Zahra S from Bahrain, a World Cup within the Middle East has helped them realise a lifelong dream. “I have always been a football fan but never considered attending a World Cup until now,” she mentioned.
Zahra and her cousin Zaynab have been staying on the fan village in Al Khor, 50km (31 miles) from Doha, and mentioned they haven’t felt uncomfortable or unsafe at their lodging or inside stadiums. “Now that we have seen how convenient it has been to be a part of the World Cup, we are definitely going to attend another one if it is hosted by a Gulf nation,” she mentioned.
Fans from Morocco, one of many two African international locations to qualify for the knock-out stage, have been among the many most boisterous group of supporters on the match. From gathering on the stadiums within the hundreds to marching throughout fan zones to drumbeats and loud chants, followers of the Atlas Lions have painted the city crimson with their staff’s colors.
Rachid and his associates from Oujda in northeast Morocco have been following the staff since their first sport of the match. “We can be here to support our team without feeling out of place,” Rachid mentioned.