Qataris are champions when it comes to dancing in the streets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2006, 12:00am

A favourite cliche of sports commentators is 'they will be dancing in the streets of ... ', whenever they talk about a country's victory which sparks off spontaneous celebrations back home.

There was plenty of dancing going on in Doha on the night the Qatar soccer team beat Iran to enter their first ever gold-medal showdown at the Asian Games.

I have never seen anything like this before. They might have danced Unter den Linden in Berlin when Germany unexpectedly reached the semi-finals at the World Cup, or partied in Sydney - not that the Aussies need an excuse - when Cathy Freeman won the 400 metres Olympic gold.

But the revelry on the streets of Doha after Qatar's famous victory was something else. It stopped traffic for miles. Groups of men got down from their four-wheel drives and danced as loud Arabic music blared from their stereos. They were mindless to the traffic, with their cars blocking entire roads. Not a policeman was to be seen. They were probably also dancing.

'This is a night for great celebration,' said Mohamad al-Sheeb, one of the young men shaking a leg. 'Football is our favourite sport. Forget the other sports, what we want is to win the football gold medal.'

Qatar have never won a medal in soccer at the Asian Games. To eliminate Iran, the defending champions and the most successful team ever, having won gold medals at four previous games, is a huge feat.

The win has added much-needed atmosphere to these games, which have sadly lacked fan participation. The only events which have drawn crowds have been soccer - once again highlighting the popularity of the beautiful game.

And with the home team doing well, it is naturally a huge boon for organisers, who are quick to point out at the jam-packed stadiums - whenever Qatar are playing - as evidence to the success of the games.

Al-Sheeb and his countrymen will have to be thankful to Uruguayan-born Sebastian Quintana for setting up the fairy tale win over Iran. Quintana, an 18-year-old forward from Montevideo, only became a Qatari national a month before the games began. He has paid back his hosts 100 times over by becoming the top scorer with four goals.

His fourth - latching on to a long ball and then hammering home a left-foot shot from the acutest of angles past the Iraqi goalkeeper - was the one which stoked the embers of hope among Qataris that the dream would go on. And when midfielder Yasser Hussain, who has appeared for Manchester City, added a second in the second half, the crowds went berserk. They were already dancing in the streets.

'It is a special feeling to open the scoring for your team. We played great football against a good side. I think we will have another tough match in the final. We will have to play real hard to win,' said Quintana, already looking ahead to the gold-medal showdown against Iraq.

Hours before Iraq had defeated South Korea 1-0, a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into a crowd of labourers looking for work in Baghdad, killing 70 and injuring 236. But despite this tragedy, they were still dancing in the streets of the Iraqi capital, too - to the sound of bullets being sprayed in the air by gunmen.

After holding up traffic for about 15 minutes, al-Sheeb and his friends move on, perhaps to another junction to carry on their celebrations. He says in parting: 'We hope to be dancing again on Friday.'

That will be the last day of the games, when Qatar meet Iraq. I hope I'm not on the road when the match ends.

Number of the Day: 15

The longest unbeaten streak in men's soccer at the games, held by Iran - 12 wins and three draws dating from the 1998 Asiad - which Qatar ended.