x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Hours of World Cup excitement make for sleepless night of the best variety

Ali Khaled bravely stares down a marathon day of World Cup viewing

Juan Camilo Zuniga, left, of Colombia and Giorgos Karagounis of Greece battle for the ball during their 2014 Fifa World Cup Group C match at Estadio Mineirao on June 14, 2014, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Ian Walton / Getty Images
Juan Camilo Zuniga, left, of Colombia and Giorgos Karagounis of Greece battle for the ball during their 2014 Fifa World Cup Group C match at Estadio Mineirao on June 14, 2014, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Ian Walton / Getty Images

Eleven hours of football? I can do 11 hours in my sleep.

June 14, the World Cup’s longest day. Four matches, 8pm on Saturday until 7am on Sunday. Is this a dare, Fifa?

Challenge accepted.

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7pm Dubai Marina. A Lebanese restaurant has the right idea. A St George’s flag to attract JBR’s considerable English contingent, and a Brazilian flag for its Arab customers.

7.58pm The outdoor screen at La Playa Lounge, The Beach is simply stunning. But the party atmosphere I’m looking for is missing. Colombia v Greece is the little-known band opening for the headline act later. Shame, as the atmosphere in Belo Horizonte, coming loud and HD clear on that massive screen, is astonishing.

8.06pm Colombia score. If a goal is scored and only a handful of football hipsters are there to see it …

8.41pm I’m told a Greek crowd is gathering at Loca in Dubai Marine Resort. Taxi.

Not surprisingly, when I get there, they’re subdued. It got worse, Greece lost 3-0.

So 20 years after the mother of all Pele-inflicted jinxes, Colombia emerge as a bona fide World Cup dark horse.

10.15pm “I expected to lose, 2-0 or 2-1,” a Greek fan says as he trudges off.

For me, the night is just beginning. Uruguay v Costa Rica next.

11.34pm Edinson Cavani buries another generously awarded penalty, 1-0. Uruguay look comfortable, the crowd around me disinterested.

11.40pm First Mexican wave on screen. I’m legally obliged to cite lack of excitement on the pitch.

12.13am Costa Rica equalise through Joel Campbell of Arsenal. The previous night Robin van Persie had apparently won the World Cup for Manchester United. Now it’s the Gunners’ turn to celebrate vicariously.

12.17am Costa Rica lead! This time, Loca goes crazy. There may be very few Costa Ricans around, but it seems there’s plenty of ABU (Anyone but Uruguay) fans. I wonder why?

12.20am The answer appears on the screen, as one man warms up. Twitter demanded it, but #Suareztime never came.

12.44am Marcos Urena makes it 3-1. On the screen, a Costa Rican weeps with joy. A perfect moment from what is so far a wonderful World Cup.

12.51am Unlike neighbours Brazil and Argentina, poor Uruguay can’t even count on a replica-shirted imposter storming off for a late-night shwarma when they lose.

1.23am Only one place for England v Italy. Barasti, Mina Seyahi. In Dubai, this is a home fixture for Roy’s army.

2.35am An Andrea Pirlo sleight of foot, a Claudio Marchisio finish. A minute later, Daniel Sturridge equalises. The natives are happy and football, apparently, is heading home.

It’s a tempting option for me, too.

2.42am “Just give it to Raheem” (Sterling), is the message from the England fans. Ah, but you have to get it off Pirlo first.

3.10am Why always him? Mario Balotelli scores.

3.31am England players cramping. Roy Hodgson has big decisions to make here. So do I; KFC or McDonald’s?

3.45am Pirlo almost scores a preposterous free-kick.

From Twitter: “@DuskySprngfield: Pirlo did not miss the crossbar it just wasn’t up to his sophistication.” Nice.

3.58am It’s over. A sleepy crowd heads for the taxi queue.

4.13am Disaster! KFC have stopped delivering.

4.58am Ivory Coast v Japan. Nessun Dorma. I’m sticking with this.

5.04am The Japanese flag represents a sunrise, just like the one in Dubai Marina right now.

5.16am Keisuke Honda gives Japan the lead, but I’m too tired to think of a suitable car joke. Ivory Coast, however, seem stuck in neutral.

5.30am-5.45am A period of sustained clownery from Ivory Coast. First, Yaya Toure is hit on the head by a teammate’s pass. Minutes later, he smacks the ball against Gervinho’s back. Then, an unspeakably bad header by Solomon Kalou.

5.54am Sleepless in Sufouh, I ponder a few questions. Have these Ivory Coast players ever trained together? Why wasn’t there two matches on the opening day? When does KFC start delivering again?

6.07am The Ivorians’ sustained commitment to comedy football is commendable. Wilfried Bony and Gervinho miss hilariously. I half expect to see Toure and Kalou attempting to take a piano up a flight of stairs any minute.

6.20am It’s Didier Drogba time.

6.22am Bony scores. Coincidence? Yes. Yes it is.

6.23am Gervinho scores. A sensational two minutes; cue the “Drogba Effect” headlines.

6.54am Final whistle. Yaya and co are elated. So am I.

7am What a day. Three greats – Pirlo, Gerrard and Drogba – in their last World Cup. Dark horses emerging. More brilliant football and not a single draw, never mind a goalless one, in sight.

Brazil 2014, you are truly worth staying up for. Obrigado.


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