Three Football Fans and Longtime Friends Share Adventure of a Lifetime to Get to World Cup Match in Doha
December 15, 2022
The sun had just come over the horizon, as Mohammed Benyelles and two friends approached the Saudi Arabia-Qatar border. They were on their way to watch their first FIFA World Cup game in Doha.
With little traffic at the borders, they quickly passed through and, by 9am, were in the city, which was full of football excitement. After breakfast and Friday prayers, they headed to Al-Thumama Stadium for the Qatar-Senegal match.
It was the first time the trio – who have been playing pickup football together since university – had ever been to a World Cup match.
“It was an amazing experience,” said the 31-year-old Algerian, a senior finance manager for GE Healthcare in the Middle East region. “We really enjoyed the ambiance in the stadium, which was filled with people from all different countries. The cultural mix made this first World Cup even better, reflecting the friendship among nations.
It was not, however, their first football outing together. Friends since they met while studying finance at the University of Oran in Algeria, their shared passion for football was established at university where they would regularly play together in informal pickup matches.
This tradition was interrupted for several years, after two of them moved overseas. But then, by chance, their professional careers brought each of them to Dubai in 2019. Since then, they have again taken up playing football together, meeting once a week, “rain or shine,” to participate together in an informal pickup league.
Benyelles said he has played football since his father gave him his first ball when he was three years old.
“I love the game, first, because it is all about teamwork. I’ve tried many sports but never really excelled in sports like judo or tennis. I prefer the team environment and a sport where team spirit is very important.
“Second, the accessibility of football is remarkable. Other sports, you need a paddle or specific court or racket. With football, you just need a ball. No equipment, even. When I was a boy in school, we would use our backpacks to mark the goals.”
That team spirit is something that applies equally in the workplace, says Benyelles.
“Football shows you how to work as a team. As you do your job, you know the full team is supporting you and you are supporting them, so if you need help, they are there, and if they need help, you are there. This is what I learned most from football.”
Back in the stadium at the World Cup, Benyelles said there was a great vibe.
“The mood was very friendly. We met a lot of Moroccan and Saudi supporters, and when they saw we were carrying Algerian flags, many of them came over asking to take pictures. There was a real sense of fraternity,” said Benyelles,
The trio were cheering for Qatar, and still enjoyed every moment of the game, despite the host nation’s defeat, not only because of the friendly mood in the stands, but also because they witnessed what turned out to be Qatar’s only goal of the tournament.
After the game, the three friends had dinner, then headed back to the Qatar-Saudi Arabia border to begin their long drive home.
In all, the three spent 21 hours on the roundtrip adventure, rotating driving duties and sleeping in the car.
So why didn’t they fly to Doha?
“We wanted to spend time together, and from a cost standpoint, driving is cheaper – keep in mind, we are three finance people! Instead of buying three plane tickets, we figured we’d share the petrol, and it would be a fun ride.It was tiring, but great.”
In any case, it certainly was an example of teamwork.
Read more here about GE employees working across the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan region.