His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and His Highness the Personal Representative of the Amir Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani await the arrival of the Qatar national team at the old airport.
The Asian Cup-winning Qatar football team was given a royal welcome, with His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani receiving them at the old Doha Airport yesterday.
A day after creating history in Abu Dhabi, where they stunned four-time champions Japan in the final, the Al Annabi came back to euphoric crowds eager to catch a glimpse of the players who have captured the country’s imagination.
His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani greets an official of the team
The players, support staff and Qatar Football Associations were given a red carpet reception after they touched down in Doha at approximately 7.15pm from Sohar, Oman. After their Asian Cup exertions, the triumphant team was forced to take a three-hour bus ride to Sohar from Abu Dhabi because of Qatar’s blockade by its neighbours. After the Omani fans greeted them like heroes, the team embarked on a short Qatar Airways flight to Doha, where on their arrival the the Amir hugged each one of them before placing garlands of roses around the players’ necks.
His Highness Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Personal Representative of the Amir, Qatar Olympic Committee president HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani, ministers and other high-ranking officials were also present to welcome the team.
Two jets from Qatar Air Force’s acrobatic unit did an honorary flyover before the Amir posed for a group picture with the entire contingent, as the royal band played the national anthem. Many of the players and officials, clearly overcome by the occasion, wept tears of joy while singing the national anthem.
Later thousands of flag-waving Qataris and residents watched the team take part in a victory parade across Corniche on an open bus, with the players pictures emblazoned on it. When Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos hoisted the trophy, the crowd chanted his name and let out a huge roar.
Despite being clearly exhausted after playing in a 28-day long continental championship, where they won seven out of seven matches, slammed record-breaking 19 goals and conceded just one, the players posed for innumerable selfies and embraced their supporters at the airport.
While all the players and head coach Felix Sanchez basked in the attention, forward Almoez Ali, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the Asian Cup, was the darling of the crowd. The 23-year-old Almoez Ali was the standout player in the tournament as his record nine goals, including a spectacular bicycle kick in the final, played a key role in Qatar clinching Asian title for the first time.
A helicopter flies with Qatar National flag and the picture of His Highness the Amir during the reception to the team
Aircraft flies in formation leaving behind a rainbow of clours
A picturesque welcome
Waiting for the heroes
Waiting for the heroes
"I would like to offer this victory to His Highness the Amir and his High Highness Sheikh Jassim, the Personal Representative of His Highness the Amir. They inspired us to work really hard for this, and we have now realised our dream. We were up to the expectations of our fans also. So I want to congratulate all the people of Qatar," Almoez said.
Almoez bettered the previous record of eight goals in a single tournament by Iran's Ali Daei, who set the mark in 1996. He found the net in four of Qatar's six matches en route to the final, including a four-goal haul against North Korea in the group stage.
The forward attributed Qatar's triumph to self-belief and teamwork. “I am proud to be part of this team. We had collective spirit during the tournament and that played a huge role. I may have been the MVP of the tournament, but it's not important compared to what the team has achieved. We raised the flag of Qatar high. Everyone in Qatar is celebrating our victory and that makes me very proud,” he said.
Coach Sanchez, who is the chief architect of Qatar’s watershed moment in the sporting world, paid tribute to his players and praised their strong mental ability for playing in a hostile atmosphere in the UAE.
“I think players had a strong mentality and the only thing that I tried to do was to help them achieve their 100% and convince them that they are able to play against any opposition. And that's what they finally showed and got the result. The whole group worked really hard. These group players have been with us for a long time and they make us a strong unit. They are young but they also have the experience, having played at the youth level and also for the national team for some time,” the Spaniard, who arrived in Qatar in 2006, said.
The 43-year-old Barcelona native came to limelight in 2014 when he led the Qatar under-19 team to Asia title with a squad that would also go on to make history at the senior level in UAE.
"We have made history for our country, so we need to be very proud of our achievement. This is one step more towards being ready for 2022 and represent Qatar as a very competitive team at the World Cup," he said.
Midfielder Karim Boudiaf was clearly overwhelmed by the reception he got on arrival. “We were welcomed by His Highness the Amir and all his family, we are very proud. I think for us reaching the semi-final itself would have been a big achievement. But when we beat South Korea in quarters, we believed that we can go all the way and win the tournament,” he said.
Defender Pedro Correia, who helped the team keep a clean sheet in six matches, said the team dared to dream a year back and was pleased their hard work has resulted in Asian Cup glory. “We want to enjoy the moment, because we have made history. We have worked hard for this in the last one year. Every training we did together, we believed we can reach the final and win the title.
“The welcome, that as a team received and the love we have got from people of Qatar will stay with me for the rest of my life. Asian Cup is not a small competition, so to come out triumphant makes me very proud,” Correia said.