By Zeena Saifi, CNN
A day after Saudi Arabia’s historic win over Argentina at the World Cup in Qatar, the kingdom’s sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, says he is “waiting for someone to wake me up”.
“That was an incredible result. The team played really well, they prepared for this day for three years, the coach (Hervé Renard) did a great job,” Prince Abdulaziz told CNN’s Becky Anderson in Doha on Wednesday as he spoke about the 2: 1 win by Saudi Arabia was thought to be the biggest World Cup disruption of all time.
“There’s harmony and a really good feeling in the team…they fought with all their hearts to deliver.”
Celebrations for the remarkable win continued well into the evening on Tuesday and early Wednesday.
The fan zone area was bathed in green as people proudly waved the Saudi flag. Both Saudi and Arab fans chanted, sang and danced in euphoria. One fan called it a “big event for the Arab world”.
“I feel absolutely amazing,” a Saudi fan told CNN. “It was a nice game. We beat them with Messi! Argentina is actually one of the favorites to win, they are unbeaten in 36 games. But guess who defeated them? Saudi Arabia!”
Assem Al Rajihi, another Saudi fan, said: “This tournament features Qatar, a neighboring country, a country that we love. I think a lot of the fans are from close countries, so I think the atmosphere is very close to us. The culture is there, so we are motivated to do our best.”
This sentiment was shared by Prince Abdulaziz, who told CNN that the celebrations are not just for Saudi Arabia, but for the entire Arab and Muslim world.
This Saudi victory is much more than David’s victory over Goliath.
On Tuesday, a picture of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani made the rounds on social media, along with a photo of him smiling next to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – scenes that would have been unthinkable just 18 months ago .
In 2017, Riyadh – along with three other Arab nations – severed diplomatic and trade ties, closed its borders and locked down its airspace, and accused Doha of supporting extremist groups, allegations it still denies.
Today that rift is finally over, and Saudi Arabia’s greatest football victory on Qatari soil is proof of that.
Prince Abdulaziz said many teams usually get a lot of criticism for their performance and training ahead of the World Cup, including Saudi Arabia, but that after Tuesday’s success “nobody can say anything” about the Green Falcons.
These Green Falcons faced Argentina with 11 players from the Saudi Pro League and even provided substitute Haitham Asiri, who plays in the second tier of Saudi Arabia.
Alongside hosts Qatar, Saudi Arabia are the only team to have a squad made up entirely of local players.
“We’ve invested a lot in sport over the last few years and this shows the results… we’re really re-structuring sport in the kingdom as an ecosystem and how we can make it as professional as anywhere in the world because we know Saudis are passionate about sports said Prince Abdulaziz.
“When I started on the Olympic Committee, we had 30 federations. Today we have 97 federations in different sports… it shows that the country is active.
“We do these things for the people of the country and it brings us great social and economic benefits at all levels,” added Prince Abdulaziz.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized for sportswear to soften the country’s image. When asked if he thought there was a vein of racism in those comments, the minister agreed.
“A little and maybe ignorance. People who don’t know Saudi Arabia, who have never been to Saudi Arabia, go out and talk about it as if they’ve lived there for 30 years, 40 years. So I always tell people come to Saudi. Come and see Saudi.
“See what it is, see the people, meet the people. Look at what the country is doing for the future of the people of Saudi Arabia and you can criticize all you want,” he said.
In honor of the team’s historic victory, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Wednesday ordered a one-day national holiday.
Manchester United announced on Tuesday that Cristiano Ronaldo will leave the club by mutual consent with immediate effect.
Asked by CNN if the 37-year-old football legend would play in Saudi Arabia next season, the minister said: “I don’t know.”
“I’ve read the same thing as you on the news and we see a lot of things about Saudi Arabia that are mentioned in the news, especially when it comes to big money, but I don’t know anything about his future plans,” he continued.
Becky Anderson then asked Prince Abdulaziz if he would like to see Ronaldo play in Saudi Arabia and he replied: “Why not?”
“We have a strong league. We have seven foreign players and one on the bench in each team and we are trying to increase that. Our teams play at the highest level in Asia and football in Saudi Arabia is strong.”
Manchester United owners have also announced their intention to explore the sale of the legendary club. Asked if Saudi Arabia would make an offer similar to the Newcastle United takeover last year, Prince Abdulaziz neither confirmed nor denied.
“Anything is possible today, but honestly I don’t know the facts of these reports. We look at all opportunities like anything else and we believe that these opportunities only come once in a lifetime and we must seize them in everything we do.”
The CNN Wire
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