Al Gharafa becomes first Qatari club to travel to Abu Dhabi since start of blockade
There has always existed a healthy sports rivalry between countries in the GCC. However, since the start of the illegal blockade of Qatar last June, there has been a breakdown of sporting relations.
Although all GCC countries took part in the Gulf Cup in Kuwait recently, no Qatari teams had visited Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE since the blockade started.
Now, Al Gharafa has become the first Qatari club to travel to Abu Dhabi since the start of the blockade on June 5. They will take on Emirati Pro-League champions Al Jazira in their AFC Champions League Group A match tomorrow, reported Gulf Times.
Blockading countries had earlier pushed for AFC matches, involving clubs from Qatar and the neighbouring countries, to be played on neutral venues. However, the proposal was shot down.
However, Al Gharafa’s trip to Abu Dhabi was anything but easy. Poor weather conditions left them stranded at the Muscat International Airport for several hours as their connecting flight to Abu Dhabi got delayed due to fog in the UAE.
The team eventually landed in Abu Dhabi more than 12 hours after they started their journey in Doha on Friday night. They spent the entire morning yesterday at the Muscat airport.
Al Gharafa’s head of delegation Saad Al Shammari posted a video from Muscat in which he said: “We were supposed to leave Muscat at 2.30am but due to bad weather in Abu Dhabi, we couldn’t travel. We sat in the plane for 45 minutes after which we talked to the cabin crew and told them we would rather spend time inside the airport.
“They agreed to our request and now we’re at the airport and as you can see the players seem to be tired. But God willing we’ll leave for Abu Dhabi at 8 in the morning as we’ve been informed.”
Al Gharafa are making their first appearance in the AFC Champions League since 2013, securing qualification this year by beating Uzbek giants Pakhtakor in a play-off in Doha earlier this week.
All eyes will be on Al Gharafa’s former Real Madrid and Internazionale midfielder Wesley Sneijder, who will be making his AFC Champions League debut.
Meanwhile, Qatar champions Al Duhail will take on Iran’s Zobahan in a Group B match in Doha tomorrow, while Al Sadd will travel to Dubai to take on the UAE’s Al Wasl on Tuesday in Group C.
Another top Qatar team, Al Rayyan, will meet Iran’s Esteghlal in a Goup D clash on Tuesday.
Picture courtesy: Gulf Times