BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria blames the state of Qatar for arming rebels bent on overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad. Qatar has accused Assad of genocide. On Thursday afternoon, the two countries battled it out on the soccer field.
“Our souls, our blood, we sacrifice them for Bashar,” the Syrian fans screamed, waving their national flag, as the under-19s played in the United Arab Emirates in an Asian Football Confederation tournament.
Twitter was ablaze with politicized messages on the game from a group of pro-Assad social media enthusiasts.
“Doesn’t matter who wins a football game, at the end #Syria is kicking #Qatar’s mercenaries asses everyday,” said a Twitter user whose tag is @ProSyriana.
The game was broadcast live on Syrian state television, though the commentators steered clear of politics.
Peaceful pro-democracy protests hit Syria’s streets in March 2011 but were met with live ammunition. Nineteen months later, Assad is fighting a civil war against a majority-Sunni Muslim opposition. Assad is an Alawite, a sect that is an offshoot of Shi‘ite Islam.
Damascus said from the beginning that the uprising was a foreign-backed conspiracy and ever since, Assad supporters have directed vitriol at Sunni states Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“#Qatar players (are) falling down like #FSA scum,” said @Syriancommando, a prominent online activist, referring to the Free Syrian Army, a group of Syria army defectors who joined rebel fighters.
In the end, after a Syrian red card and a couple yellows, Qatar won 2-1 but fell out of the tournament on points, while Syria stayed in.
“#Qatar u may have won the battle but u didn’t win the war. #Syria goes on to play next game, Qatar is out. We’ll win the real war too.” said @Partisangirl, a Syrian YouTube commentator.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Tom Perry and Paul Casciato