They came, they saw, they were suitably impressed.
The last remaining coterie of vested interests who questioned Qatar’s lack of football culture, its passion for the game and its openness towards others were silenced for good on Saturday night when Liverpool beat Brazil’s Flamengo 1-0 to clinch the FIFA Club World Cup title for the first time at the iconic Khalifa International Stadium.
It was arguably the biggest club game ever played in Qatar and held as it was in front of a packed crowd, it offered an excellent sneak preview of what to expect in three years when global sporting attention will turn to the country once again when it hosts the Arab and Muslim world’s first FIFA World Cup.
Liverpool's Jordan Henderson lifts the trophy as they celebrate after winning the Club World Cup
Liverpool fans inside the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha before the Liverpool vs Flamengo match on Saturday
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp celebrates with the trophy after winning the Club World Cup
General view of Flamengo fans inside the Stadium
Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah receives the Golden Ball award
Among the crowd were thousands of English supporters of Liverpool who had flown from the UK, not to speak of the devoted Qatar-based fans of the Reds’ talisman Mohamed Salah who has achieved cult status in the Arab world and elsewhere for his exploits on the football field.
“I am a fan of Manchester United but when Salah plays I become a Liverpool fan and I want him to score every time,” said Ahmed, an Egyptian who was present at the stadium along with several of his friends.
Nothing thrills fans more than watching their favourite player in action and Salah provided plenty of thrills during the tournament although he was unlucky not to have a single goal registered in his name.
That little anomaly however did not stop the adjudicators from giving him the adidas Golden Ball award as he wove his magic with his sheer pace, deft turn of foot and imaginative passing that left the opposition scratching their heads. His dream assist to Naby Keita in the semi-final against Mexico’s Monterrey which left the defence stunned would be etched in public memory forever and for many would be the defining moment of the event.
The match was one of the most closely fought finals the competition has seen. Having swept aside Brazil and South America with a brilliant swagger, the world provided just out of reach for Jorge Jesus’s Flamengo.
Instead it’s Jurgen Klopp, reigning The Best FIFA Men’s Coach, who can legitimately call his team the best on the planet.
The success of Liverpool and Flamengo this season instantly caused nostalgia to flare, particularly around Rio de Janeiro. Before this year’s final, the sides had met only once – during the 1981 Intercontinental Cup – which O Mengao fans still sing about, having dazzled in a 3-0 win to claim a world title themselves.
As such, both sets of fans had their hearts set on a rematch. Neither had it easy in teeing up the encounter, though. Flamengo had to come from behind to beat stubborn debutants Al Hilal, needing a Bruno Henrique masterclass in the second half to secure their final ticket. Liverpool left it even later, requiring Roberto Firmino heroics to seal a stoppage-time win over Monterrey.
The final itself was truly a meeting of champions. Neither side blinked when faced with the prospect of global glory, playing out an engrossing, tactical chess match. Again it was Firmino who was the night’s king, showing the coolness needed in extra time to make sure it was ‘You Never Walk Alone’ that poured out from the stands at fulltime.
Earlier in the evening, Monterrey fans had been the ones in good voice. Not letting up for a moment across their side’s match for third place against Al Hilal, their wall of noise was rewarded with a second bronze medal in their history.
After a flurry of second-half goals saw 90 minutes also end all square, it was left to some goalkeeping heroics to decide the result. Luis Cardenas stepped up in more ways than one. First, Rayados’s second-choice stopper saved two spot-kicks to leave them one from victory. Then, he took that kick himself, adding his name to Monterrey folklore.
Tunisian giants Esperance Sportive de Tunis similarly finished on a high. They matched their best-ever finish of fifth in record style, defeating host champions Al Sadd 6-2, the most goals scored by a side Club World Cup history and equalling the most goals in a game.
A notable mention should also go to Hienghene Sport. The first side from New Caledonia to feature at the tournament, Hienghene kicked off the tournament by taking Al Sadd to extra time and threatening to start us off with an almighty upset.