All eyes are on Manama as Qatar and Bahrain play a key Asian qualifying match for the 2014 World Cup in the Bahraini capital today amidst continuing tension in the host country and its uneasiness with the neighbour.
The two neighbours are playing just weeks after Al Jazeera English Channel telecast a controversial documentary on the unrest in Bahrain.
Bahrain described the Al Jazeera film as one-sided and protested to Qatar.
The row didn’t end there as the Bahraini media took up the issue and criticised Qatar severely, accusing Doha of fomenting tension. The development led some key Qatari columnists to react sharply, saying it was wrong to see Al Jazeera as Qatar’s mouthpiece.
The debate became so heated that soon social networking sites in the two countries joined in with people posting their comments on Twitter and Facebook.
Manama took the Al Jazeera documentary so seriously that, according to media reports, it unofficially banned the entry of the channel’s staff, including Qataris, into the country.
Analysts say bitterness is lingering between the two sides as only weeks have passed since the documentary, ‘Shouting In The Dark’, was aired. It would be interesting to see how the issue affects the football fixture between the two countries today.
“There is some concern among the people here as they are quite eager to see how their country’s team is treated in the neighbouring Bahrain,” an analyst said on grounds of anonymity.
The concern is basically over whether there would be a backlash from the Bahraini public to the Al Jazeera documentary.
The match is quite important for Qatar, which has won the 2022 World Cup bid and whose new Brazilian coach, Sebastio Lazaroni, would be aiming for a winning start.
The members of the Qatari soccer team which reached Bahrain on Wednesday evening are staying in Hotel Inter-Continental in Manama, which is quite close to the venue of today’s event.
Incidentally, Bahrain, Qatar, Iran and Indonesia are grouped together in the World Cup qualifier.
Meanwhile, tension continues to mount in Bahrain, where thousands of Shia protesters yesterday chanted anti-government slogans during the last rites of a teenager, Ali Jawad Ahmed, 14, who the opposition claimed was killed after being hit by a tear gas canister fired by police.
However, in a statement mailed to The Peninsula, Bahrain’s International Affairs Authority said post-mortem reports suggested that the cause of Ahmed’s death was an injury he suffered on the back of his neck.
Blood examination of the deceased by a forensic laboratory showed that Ahmed’s body was free from any effects of tear gas exposure, the statement said.
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