Qatar’s national football team is set to face Saudi Arabia in the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup semi-final on Thursday, amid signs of a growing thaw in relations between the regional rivals.
The highly-anticipated match will take place at the Al-Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakra at 8pm local time.
Qatar’s Maroons secured their semi-final place after an emphatic 4-2 win against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia, which lost its opening match against Kuwait, nevertheless, finished at the top of Group B after sending reigning champions Oman packing with a 3-1 win.
The biennial eight-nation tournament has attracted a lot of attention this year in light of a two-year diplomatic and transport blockade imposed on Qatar by three of its regional neighbours.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain – plus Egypt – cut off diplomatic ties and imposed an air, land and sea blockade on Doha.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE reversed their decision to boycott the Gulf Cup at the last minute this year, leading to a revised draw.
The Saudi team symbolically flew straight to Doha despite the ban on direct flights. The UAE team, however, made an obligatory stop in a third country.
Further signs of de-escalation in tensions within the regional bloc appeared after Saudi King Salman’s invitation to Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) 40th summit, which will take place on December 10 in Riyadh.
This is the fourth time Qatar – a three-time winner of the cup – is hosting the regional tournament.
Published on 5 December 2019, With inputs from Al Jazeera