(MENAFN- The Peninsula)
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Coming from a cricket-mad nation, Sri Lankans have shown an exceptional love for football. The game is at least the third most popular in the island nation — behind cricket and rugby.
Those who love football always go an extra mile, like some who have travelled more than 3,600 km for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Interestingly, two top names in Sri Lankan cricket were among them — the legendary Sanath Jayasuriya and former all-rounder Farveez Maharoof. The duo was here for the opening ceremony of the tournament and stayed for few more games.
Jayasuriya posted photos taken during the opening ceremony describing his attendance of match as“First ever FIFA World Cup game” in the caption.
Fellow ex Sri Lankan national cricketer Maharoof speaking to The Peninsula in a telephonic conversation said,“I'm here for the love for football; had a brilliant time. Everything about Qatar is fantastic.”
Former Sri Lankan cricketers Sanath Jayasuriya and Farveez Maharoof in the stands during Argentina vs Saudi Arabia match at Lusail Stadium on November 22.
Other Sri Lankan nationals cheering for the World Cup include Hamza Haniffa, a young marketing professional. He is here for the World Cup, primarily for his interest in football and admiration for Lionel Messi. He said he wanted to watch maximum possible games during his 40-45 days stay and has booked tickets for 16 matches.“I started watching football from 2005, as my school has the number one football team in the country at that time. Eventually I got to know about the Brazil team and Ronaldo — and saw them wining the World Cup. My interest in football was on increase day by day, and then I developed an admiration towards Lionel Messi,” said Haniffa.
Speaking about experience in Doha he said,“Absolutely brilliant,” and added“Doha is well prepared for football.”
The football enthusiasm brought Sri Lanka-born Australians Ashley Rodrigo Sathianathen and his wife Shervonne Rodrigo Sathianathen to Doha. They experienced the World Cup excitement and Qatar's hospitality over six days.“Our Qatar experience began at the Doha Airport where we were cleared by immigration within few seconds. Travelling internally is super easy with free world-class public transport system connecting to game venues,” they said.
“Wherever we went people were friendly and helpful. It was great to see Qataris welcoming and helping people coming from all corners of the world to support their teams and enjoy football,” they added.
Sri Lankan expatriates are not exceptional when it comes to football. Rizan Haroon, a long term resident, says Qatar has provided him the opportunity continue his childhood passion for football.
Rizan Haroon (left) and Hamza Haniffa (right)
“Football has been one of my greatest passions since school days and Qatar has given me the opportunity to pursue it until today, which I believe makes me so fortunate to be able to live in the game,” he said.
Haroon, who is a founder and member of several community football associations, said Qatar Football Association (QAF) has provided an excellent platform for all expatriate football enthusiasts.
“QFA has allowed me to continue playing football here while adopting a cultural community that shares my passion for the game. I was given the incredible opportunity to play as a player for Team Sri Lanka in 2009. It gave me the opportunity to excel as a manager and assistant coach several years later,” said Haroon, one of the patron members of Team Sri Lanka, providing assistance for football development.
Like thousands of football fans in the country, the bid wining moment and Qatar hosting the World Cup are joyous moments for Haroon too.
“It was one of the happiest moments to witness being in Qatar, and it brings me great joy to be able to experience FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in a country that has been my home for the last 20 years.
I am so proud to see our culture introduced to the rest of the world through the power of football, which truly maximises its strength in bringing people together regardless of age, race, gender, culture, or nationality, and this was never more evident than during the World Cup,” he said.