Two weeks, 24 countries, 72 games, four cities, nine venues … challenge accepted!

“I want to go to the world cup”

This simple phrase from young Thomas led to the development of a trip to the United Arab Emirates for the 2019 edition of the Asian Football Confederation Cup. Having missed the boat for the world cup in Russia 2018 this was the next best thing. The War Elephants, the White Wolves, the Lions of Mesopotamia, Green Falcons and the somewhat tamely named Socceroos (amongst others) were to do battle for the right to become the champions of Asian football.

I thought we may get three people interested. We ended up with 19 travellers, the majority without an iota of interest in soccer! Across the two weeks we went to a camel market, sand surfed, played in water parks, went to Bollywood, a ghost town, camel riding, visited the Louvre at Abu Dhabi, experienced Ferrari acceleration, held falcons and owls, got banned from beach cricket, played ‘marks up’ in the pool, entered a fun run, swam in the Persian Gulf, high fived Azis Behich’s dad, and along with much much more, stood in markets loudly exclaiming ‘this man needs a watch’!

We negotiated planes, trains, taxis, Careem (UAE uber), buses, walked, got a little lost, yelled YALLA! regularly (GO – COME ON), used ‘shukram’ (works for Urdu as well) for the drivers, thought about human rights issues, admired lawns, and had a great time. Oh, we did go to some soccer matches as well (nine for the most committed among us!) and enjoyed the active support of all the teams, except Syria, when we nearly had an international incident!

Fun facts
• Did you know that if you support Qatar you can be jailed in the UAE! Awkward when one of our group wore a Qatar shirt to the Saudi Arabia v Qatar match.
• No alcohol makes for a much more pleasant sporting experience
• Australian active support is abysmal – we need chants and songs
• Tom F. yelled at Robbie Kruse that his mum thinks he is a ‘hack’
• Lebanon and China had the best support
• Be prepared for Afghan/Pakistan/Bangladeshi/Indian market sellers to blow burning crystals into your face (It’s OK though!)
• Pashminas, genuine fake Rolex and Ray Bans can apparently be purchased in the souks
• They have flamingos!
• Their shopping malls are like Chadstone on steroids

We all returned happy and healthy from the trip. Michelle from Spot On Travel and my traveling companions made the trip lots of fun and a great adventure. The cup is done and dusted. The Australians could not defend their title and Qatar are the new Asian Cup champions (a little ironic). 2023 is the next edition of the Asian Cup in either South Korea or China – bring it on!

Before that World Cup Qatar 2022 – want to go?

Fred Brumhead