7th Jan 2011 – Asian Cup 2011 Opening Ceremony – Qatar v Uzbekistan

ALL PICTURES © AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Today is the start of what is my favorite football tournament on planet earth – the Asian Cup. Just like the Europeans have the UEFA Euros, next time around the venue being Poland and Ukraine, the Asian countries have their own continental tournament with this years taking place in Qatar.

Why is this tournament favorite? Well its always exciting, colourful yet it is like being besotted with an underground rock group that has not made it into the main stream yet. The Copa America in South America is well known but sadly not the Asian Cup.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Realistically only Japan, South Korea and usually one other country would be a threat to the rest of the world but when they battle amongst themselves for the title of Asian Champions. But games are always exciting and for the photographer always very colourful with an incredible mix of cultures. This one is no different.

The first Asian Cup I covered was in 1996. Then Iran were top dogs. Names like Ali Daei and Khodadad Azizi were rolling off my tongue in those days. The second Asian Cup I did was in the delightful Beirut in Lebanon. I say delightful as it is quite simply one of my top five cities in the world.

After spending the past two English summers in the winter – I was in South Africa covering first the FIFA Confederations Cup and then the FIFA World Cup – I am quite looking forward to the prospect of two and a bit weeks in the sun.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The other obvious magnet for this tournament is that most of the world do not know much about Qatar and its capital Doha. It is the host nation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup – so lets see what it is all about during the next few weeks!

So I landed after traveling via Dubai at the new airport.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

It’s big, fast flowing and I could easily see thousands of football fans arriving here in 2022. Like the UAE, fuel is cheap so taxis and transport are VERY cheap.

Unlike Saudi Arabia the girls especially are friendly and hospitable to Western visitors. Some are shy like Japanese but most are proud to speak about their country. For those jealous girlfriends wondering what their loved ones will do when following the World Cup in Qatar, it is of course a Muslim state and they are of course all strict followers of Islam.

I have already been told to visit two places that I can not find pictures of on the internet, however it sounds all very exciting. My kind of place – somewhere to explore and possibly uncover.

So today was Day One – The Opening Ceremony.

I have done too many of these to get excited in my old age, but being fair and neutral and aware that friends back home will say that of course everything in Qatar is wonderful as I want the World Cup to be here – the opening ceremony was actually interesting.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

With the stadium plunged into darkness the crowd sang the national anthem to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani the ruling Emir of the State of Qatar. That little episode resulted in me reading up on the Emir for about twenty minutes. The closest the English language comes to the Arabic version is Admiral. A ruler. The Emir is the high commander of the country.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Fireworks lit up the sky as dancers lit up by powerful projectors superimposing competing nation flags and tournament logos kept the enthusiastic crowd and visitors happy.

Then game time. How good were these stadium lights?!

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I was using a 600mm lens at settings I could only dream of back home in England.

I was so hungry.

I had not eaten anything today. I longed for the media centre food that I sampled yesterday – delicious hummas, vine leaves and a bit of pasta! However my hunger disappeared as I snapped away.

It was the Asian Cup 2011, thats the official title. I shot precisely 2011 frames on three camera bodies.

For the record, it is fair to say that Qatar will have to improve a hell of a lot for when they host the FIFA World Cup in 2011. 80% of the crowd had gone by 80 minutes – I thought it was because they were 0-2 down, however even 45 minutes after the final whistle the traffic was a nightmare.

The rest of the evening was spend editing and syndicating. No sampling the cities only nightclub which happens to be in my hotel.

Nothing went wrong. Everything was smooth. I feel very safe in Doha. People are friendly. It is a very nice 25c but the sun is not very strong, in fact very weak. All the workers – Indians, Philippines and most of the locals have come up to me talking about the football. Many watched Wolves v Chelsea and are amazed like me that Aston Villa are in a relegation place.

Apart from their football team thumbs up from me so far.

Next time I am in this venue, one of five in Doha, I will check out a huge tower with a TV in it shining on those departing this stadium. Like always, best not to peak on the first day. Best to have some things to look out for next time.

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