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HANDBALL

Qatar ‘buys’ noisy Spanish handball fans

For a special boost at the world handball championship starting Thursday, hosts Qatar have flown in the noisiest fans they can find to cheer them -- all the way from Spain.

Qatar 'buys' noisy Spanish handball fans
The Spanish fans have a reputation for creating an atmosphere but will be obliged to cheer against their own side, the defending world champions. Photo: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

About 60 Spaniards have flown to the Gulf state for matches including a tie with Spain where they will be obliged to cheer against their native side, the defending world champions.

The travelling fans are guests of the Qatar Handball Association for the duration of the tournament which starts on Thursday and runs until the final scheduled on February 1st.

"They are paying for the flights, lodging and full board in a good hotel, they are granting the fans access to watch the whole world cup," said Samuel Ruiz, 33, president of one of the Spanish supporters' groups, Furia Conquense.

"It is a good enough offer to make you cheer them on in their matches, even if they are playing against Spain. It's all paid for by Qatar so those are the ones we have to support," he told AFP.

Most of those travelling were from the Furia Conquense, a group devoted to the Ciudad Encantada team in the central town of Cuenca, which prides itself as the biggest and most musical handball fan club in Spain.

Ruiz himself could not get time off work so had to stay behind in Spain while his 30 Furia Conquense companions — some  of them unemployed – plus others from clubs in Valencia and Burgos jetted 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometres) to Qatar.

He said his companions had taken the saxophone, trumpets and drums they play at matches and were rehearsing newly adapted English-language versions of their team songs, changing the lyrics from "Cuenca" to "Qatar".

He said the visit was set up thanks to links between the Cuenca club and Spanish staff who work with the Qatar team.

"We are well-known in Spain. We create an atmosphere that puts a lot of pressure on the opposition and encourages the home team for the whole match," said Ruiz, a 33-year-old administrative worker.

Qatar play the opening match of the 24-team tournament against Brazil on Thursday. They will face Spain on January 21st in one of their other group matches.

Among the other top contenders are Olympic and European champions France, who play their opening game against the Czech Republic on Friday.

So-called "mercenary" fans have been a feature of other sporting events. In the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa, Chinese actors and musicians were reportedly hired to cheer for North Korea.

Qatar has been chosen to host the football World Cup in 2022, among various other international sports tournaments.

FOOTBALL

Spanish great Xavi to play on until at least end of year

Legendary former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez has upset his own plans to retire and announced he will extend his career until at least the end of this year, he said on Sunday.

Spanish great Xavi to play on until at least end of year
Legendary former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez. Photo: Karim Haafar/AFP

Widely expected to end his illustrious playing career at the end of this season, the World Cup champion and four-times Champions League winner told AFP he feels fit enough to continue playing a little longer.

“I have decided to continue at least six months more,” said the 38-year-old, who now plays for Qatari club Al Sadd.

Asked why he was playing on, he replied: “Because it depends on my physical condition. Maybe in December I decide to continue.”

The decision is unexpected as Xavi had signalled that the current season would be his last before he focuses on earning his coaching badges. Xavi, who won 133 caps for Spain, had been expected to take the reins at Al
Sadd from next season and has been tipped to be the Qatar coach in 2022 when the Gulf state hosts the World Cup.

He made his debut for Barcelona back in 1998, and went on to make more than 500 appearances for the Catalan giants, winning eight La Liga titles.

Although the league season has ended in Qatar — Al Sadd finished runners-up — Xavi is still involved in two cup competitions.

On Monday, Al Sadd play in Doha against Saudi Arabian side Al Ahli in the first leg of the AFC Champions League last 16.

Later this week, Al Sadd will also play in the semi-final of Qatar's biggest domestic cup competition, the Emir Cup.