Spanish football legend Xavi Hernandez made his debut for his new team Al Sadd last night, helping secure a 4-0 win against Mesaimeer, though few spectators were present to witness it.
The former FC Barcelona captain, who is known simply as Xavi, joined the Qatar Stars League team earlier this summer in a joint player-coach capacity.
Yesterday’s match was the first time the midfielder has played for a team other than Barcelona.
Playing in the No. 6 black and white shirt, Xavi started Al Sadd off well, assisting defender Jung Soo Lee to score the first goal in the 11th minute.
Brazilian striker Muriqui then performed a hat trick, with the last goal in the 87th minute, leading Al Sadd to a final victory over Mesaimeer.
This was the first time Mesaimeer had played in the QSL, after getting promoted last season from the Qatargas League.
Xavi was mobbed by fans when he first arrived to Qatar in June, but the fanfare for the international player did not carry over to the ground last night.
Official attendance at the game was 2,253, according to a sign board inside the 13,000-seater Grand Hamad stadium, home of Al Arabi Sports Club.
However, spectators there said the actual number of fans who turned up to watch the Spanish superstar seemed more like 500 to 1,000 people.
A Vine clip, posted online by Qatar-based football fan Graham, showed a near-empty stadium.
The clip quickly went viral, recording 160,000 views since yesterday evening.
A 100,000 view vine in 4 hours, wow, folk are crazy for Qatari football… https://t.co/y2s53w6rj6
— Graham A (@graham1A) September 13, 2015
It would appear that Mesaimeer in particular struggled to garner support, with just a few dozen of its fans sitting in white shirts and strategically spaced out on the bleachers.
The spectators had half a dozen drums that created a bit more of an atmosphere in the stadium, and chanting from both teams’ fans could also be heard in the background.
— Brooke (@Brookster81) September 13, 2015
However, entire sections of the rest of the stadium were completely empty of spectators.
Some fans speculated that one reason for the low turnout was the 6pm kick-off, which makes it difficult for people who are still working to attend. Additionally, that’s a time when traffic is heavy due to the evening rush.
Despite signing high-profile players, Qatar has long had problems getting fans to turn up for sports matches and games.
According to a government survey conducted in 2013, two-thirds of Qatar residents hadn’t attended a football match here in the previous season. The main reasons included bad weather, awkward match times and traffic congestion.
Late last year, Associated Press reporters who attended an international beach volleyball event described the practice of “fake fans,” saying hundreds of men had squeezed onto buses after being promised around QR20 ($5.50) for their participation at the event.
As Qatar is preparing to host numerous international sporting tournaments in the coming years, including the World Athletics Championships in 2019 and the World Cup in 2022, authorities have been working to encourage a culture of attending live events.
For example, organizers of the Men’s Handball World Championships, which took place in Qatar early this year, eventually filled the arenas after booking global music icons such as Kylie Minogue, Taio Cruz, Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani, who performed after key matches.
Have you been to a football match here? Thoughts?