Saudi Arabia fans celebrate in Souq Waqif after the match between Saudia Arabia and Argentina in Doha, Qatar on 22 November, 2022

I should’ve made a video of Amir Khalid’s reaction after the match ended. Later, I really regretted not doing it. But what’s the point in ruing about it later! Besides, there was hardly any scope to capture a video in-between the wild celebrations of the Saudi Arabia supporters.

In fact, there was so much noise that one had to take his ears inches away from the others person’s mouth to hear what he is saying.

Amir, a 22-year-old Saudi Arabian, works in the IT sector. He is proficient in English. After failing to communicate with three-four persons as they didn’t know any English, I was over the moon when I met Amir. It would’ve been difficult to identify him as a Saudi Arabia fan if he didn’t have a Saudi flag in his hands. There is no trace of Saudi Arab in either his looks or his getup. He was wearing a t-shirt with jeans and a sunglass.

At the ground, the celebrations of the Saudi Arabian players were far from over. Just as the final whistle was blown, the players from the bench rushed to the field. After a team celebration, the players ran towards the gallery. It’s a mystery why they selected that particular end of the ground. It was not like the Saudi fans were confined in just one section of the gallery.

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“How are you feeling?”- hearing this question, Amir responded with his eyes still glued to the ground, “I still can’t believe it. Unbelievable!”

As he said it, his lips were quivering. After he said he can’t believe what has happened even after watching it live from the gallery, there is no point in asking him, “Were you expecting a result like this?”.

A Saudi Arabia fan holds a banner during the match in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

So, I spun the question a bit and asked him, what was his highest expectation from the match.

Amir surprised me when he answered, “2-1”.

2-1? But that’s the scoreline of the match. Then why is he screaming, “Unbelievable, unbelievable!”? Amir explained as he kept bumping with fellow Saudi supporters who were lost in celebrations, “I wanted Saudi Arabia to put up some fight. At least score one goal and lose 2-1.”

Saudi Arabia fan at the gallery

The Saudi supporters came to see the match fully expecting a defeat. They were up against a powerhouse of world football. It was difficult to even recall when they last suffered a defeat. Saudi Arabia couldn’t manage a victory over them in the past four meetings and the two draws against them were hailed as good as victories. It’s not too difficult to predict what tremendous joy the Saudi supporters are experiencing after defeating Argentina.

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Actually, it’s not even something you can predict, nor can it really be predicted. It’s actually impossible to comprehend the level of joy the Saudi Arabians were experiencing if one wasn’t at the ground. But the recurrent roars were not at all unusual. If so many people scream at the same time, it is bound to sound like a roar.

Exactly how many people were there? It’s tough to give an accurate number. The Lusail Iconic Stadium is the biggest out of the eight stadiums for this World Cup. The official capacity is around 80 thousand. However, there was a big surprise waiting for me, just like there was at the Al Bayt Stadium, the venue of the opening match. Al Bayt’s capacity was 60 thousand. However, apparently a few more thousand people were present at the venue. Today also, the total spectator count of the venue didn’t match the official capacity. Apparently, there were more than 87 thousand fans at the ground.

Saudi Arabia minister of sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki celebrates Saudi Football Federation

There is only one possible answer to this puzzle. They have come with this total after adding the people who are present at the ground on duty with the spectators who were at the venue after purchasing a ticket.

Out of the 87 thousand, how many were from Saudi Arabia? How many people from Saudi Arabia have crossed the border and stepped foot in Qatar? There is no way to know the exact number. However, owing to the political tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, at one point, there were doubts over whether Saudi Arabia will even participate in the World Cup.

There was also doubt over whether the Saudi fans would be able to watch the World Cup live at the ground, even though the tournament is taking place in its neighbouring country. That’s why, there were small spots of green scattered all over the Lusail Iconic Stadium. After such a remarkable win in the first match, this number is likely to increase in the future.

The colour indigo was also present at the gallery. The ones wearing green were all Saudi citizens. But not everyone wearing indigo were supporting Argentina. Argentina, Brazil have a lot of supporters in other countries as well. Even they have arrived at the ground wearing the jersey of their favourite team. Before entering the ground, I met with one such couple. Both husband-wife were wearing an Argentina jersey. By their looks, they also looked Argentine.

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But after speaking with them for a little while I realised they are Mexicans. They also have a big Mexican flag in their hands. Then why were they wearing the Argentina jersey? It’s because after Mexico, they are fans of Argentina. Actually, they are fans of Messi.

I started this write-up talking about Amir Khalid. I will also finish it with him. After asking him – who is your favourite footballer- I fully expected him to say the name of one of the two Saudi Arabian players who scored. Do you want to know what Amir answered?

“My favourite footballer is Messi.”

*This report appeared in the online section of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy