February 20, 2024

This AFC Asian Cup has had its justifiable share of surprises.

There was Iraq’s beautiful win over Japan, Malaysia’s exceptional last-minute equalizer to attract 3-3 with South Korea, and Tajikistan’s fairytale run to the quarterfinals. It’s turning out to be a match to recollect.

And think about additionally the drama on the Khalifa Worldwide Stadium yesterday when Jordan scored twice in second-half stoppage time to stun Iraq 3-2 and knock the 2007 champions out of the match.

However the scenes off the pitch have arguably been the largest shock of all.

Following so quickly after the magic of Qatar 2022 was at all times going to be a troublesome activity, particularly for a match that doesn’t have the identical broad enchantment because the World Cup and attracts considerably fewer abroad followers.

However whereas the dimensions could also be completely different, the identical environment generated by the World Cup could be seen within the stadiums and all through the streets of Doha, most notably the slender confines of Souq Waqif.

The historic market, a labyrinthine of slender alleyways, has lengthy been a gathering place the place locals and Bedouins would meet to commerce quite a lot of items, together with fish, goats and wool.

Whereas it’s now primarily a vacationer attraction, promoting a mixture of vacationer and conventional gadgets, its standing as a gathering place stays and whereas as soon as it was fish and goats being traded, now it’s soccer tradition.

Followers from throughout together with Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have had their flip to take over the well-known market, with 1000’s upon 1000’s descending to sing and dance their approach into the evening of their conventional model.

It has created a vibe and momentum across the match that’s as intoxicating as it’s sudden.

Final evening it was Jordan followers taking on as they celebrated their aspect’s exceptional 3-2 victory over Iraq.

The Souq, nevertheless, is just a mirrored image of what’s occurring contained in the stadiums the place there have been document attendances.

The magical 1 million mark was damaged, for whole attendance, on the Khalifa Worldwide Stadium on Monday when 35,814 turned up on a uncommon overcast afternoon to witness one of many upsets of the match.

An additional 63,753 made the lengthy — by Qatari requirements — trek out to the majestic Al-Bayt stadium in Al-Khor to observe the house aspect make it 11 consecutive wins within the AFC Asian Cup with a 2-1 win over Palestine.

With largely full stadiums anticipated the deeper the match progresses, it isn’t past the realm that total attendance might smash 1.5 million by the point the ultimate, to be performed on the Lusail Stadium, comes round on Feb. 10.

Comparisons to earlier tournaments are at all times unfair, and on this case not a wholly correct affair given this 12 months’s match (and that of 2019) comprises 24 groups, whereas earlier iterations had solely 16, leading to an additional 19 matches being performed.

However for the sake of the train, the final time Qatar hosted the Asian Cup again in 2011, your entire match attracted simply 405,361 followers.

Whereas it’s true that the match was performed in smaller stadiums, lengthy earlier than the World Cup venues got here into existence, additionally it is true that soccer in Qatar, and the Gulf extra broadly, was in a really completely different place in 2011 in comparison with 2024.

Nowhere is that extra true than in Saudi Arabia, the place the Asian Cup in 2027 will happen.

Placing apart the speedy improvement of soccer inside the Kingdom, in 2011 they crashed out with no win and their matches have been attended by a mixed whole of simply 35,139 followers.

Their opening recreation this match attracted 41,987, whereas they averaged simply over 40,000 for his or her three group stage video games.

Fan bases all throughout the Gulf have been woke up, and the consequence has been the explosion of coloration and noise witnessed throughout Qatar over the previous few weeks.

The gauntlet has now been thrown all the way down to Saudi Arabia to construct on this success come 2027, and little doubt the authorities will pull out all of the stops to make sure the carnival being skilled in Doha is replicated throughout the Kingdom.

However that’s for an additional 4 years. For now, we’re nonetheless reveling within the sights and sounds of this Asian Cup that’s elevating Asian soccer and this match to the lofty heights all of us need it to realize.

What’s thrilling, with the quarterfinals, semifinals and last nonetheless to be performed, one of the best is definitely but to come back.