Thursday, February 21, 2019 | ePaper
Qatar Asian Cup victory to 'deepen' Gulf tensions: Analysts
Qatar's remarkable Asian Cup victory may have been a sporting triumph which sparked wild celebrations in Doha but it is almost certain to come at a political price, analysts say.
The win - in the hostile capital of the United Arab Emirates, one of its opponents in a bitter regional dispute - is expected to lead to further animosity between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc of rival nations.
And even just days after Qatar beat Japan 3-1 in the final, it may have already deepened the Gulf diplomatic impasse.
"Any sense of embitterment in Abu Dhabi at the way the tournament they hosted turned out may translate into an escalation of rhetoric against Qatar," said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at Rice University.
He added: "The response to Qatar's run in the Asian Cup has, if anything, deepened the split within the Gulf.
"Omanis and Kuwaitis have rejoiced in Qatari success and have done so in extremely public fashion, visibly emphasising their rejection of the blockading states' attempt to isolate Qatar in the region."
Qatar's first ever Asian Cup win is an astonishing story on numerous levels - a modern-day sporting parable, soaked in geopolitics and symbolism.
It is a powerful Qatari riposte to critics who long ridiculed the 2022 World Cup host for its lack of footballing prowess.
The team beat three sides who appeared in the Russia World Cup, scored 19 goals, conceded just one and provided the tournament's best goalkeeper, player and highest goalscorer.
It is a vindication of the wealthy Gulf state's huge spending to develop talent at its Aspire Academy - 13 of the 23-man squad were graduates, including top scorer Ali Almoez.
But it is far more than just sport. Since June 2017, Saudi-led countries have cut ties with Doha, claiming it supports terrorism and wants a better relationship with Riyadh's arch-rival, Tehran. Qatar denies the charges, says it is being punished for pursuing an independent foreign policy and its enemies want regime change in Doha.