Fancy selfies with ‘Pele’ and ‘Maradona’ in Doha?

An interactive exhibition on South American football is drawing World Cup fans – young and old, local and global.

Missing Maradona’s dribbling skills or Pele’s goal-scoring genius? Adoring fans can still pose for selfies with the football icons – or life-size statues of them.

What sounds like a football lover’s dream is actually an interactive exhibition on South American football in the heart of Doha’s Msheireb Downtown area.

The exhibition has been set up by local tourism authorities in collaboration with the South American Football Federation to give fans a taste of the region’s rich football history, which continues to inspire supporters across the world. Between Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, South American nations have won nine of the previous 21 World Cups.

The vibrant open-air and free-for-all setup is hard to miss for tourists or locals strolling by Sikkat Al Wadi, the popular pedestrian street that hosts the exhibition, or for those making their way to Souq Waqif for a flavour of traditional Qatar. It is open from 2pm to 10pm every day during the World Cup in Qatar.

Visitors can savour the victories of legends from the continent as well as test their football skills by participating in different challenges.  Aspiring footballers can check their shooting accuracy by trying to target marked corners of a goal. Or they can test their dribbling and juggling skills while a timer is on.

Football fans testing their skills against each other at the exhibition of South American football in Doha on November 30, 2022. (Hafsa Adil/Al Jazeera)
Football fans testing their skills against each other at the exhibition of South American football in Doha on November 30, 2022 [Hafsa Adil/Al Jazeera]

Interactive games

On the eve of the Argentina-Poland match on Wednesday, a young footballer in a Messi shirt runs between poles in the dribbling challenge but loses the ball halfway, inviting a Polish fan to say: “I hope that’s how (Lionel) Messi plays tomorrow.”

Argentina beat Poland 2-0, even though Messi missed a penalty.

In another part of the exhibition, where goal-scoring speed is measured, a four-year-old girl, Haya, tries to score as her dad holds her to help.

Music from different parts of South America plays as people walk around and look up at the Tree of Dreams, which stands in the middle of the exhibition and carries the names of the region’s famous footballers.

An intense game between children, two on each side, is under way in a small, enclosed replica of a football pitch. Parents and other onlookers say “ooh” and “aah” when a young boy scores a goal just as the buzzer goes off, indicating full time.

Team shirts signed by players of all South American teams participating in this World Cup are on display on a colourful balcony designed in the style of Brazilian favelas.

Football fans stand a chance of winning one of these by picking their all-time greatest South American team in an interactive team selection game.

A half-yellow, half-blue part of the exhibition pays homage to two of the greatest footballers the region has produced. Signed shirts, replica boots and trophies, and famous quotes by both Diego Maradona and Pele are neatly divided into their respective sections. Fans stop to stare at the trophies and shirts, then proceed to join a queue and get a photo with the legends’ statues.

Pele's famous jersey on display at the exhibition on South American football in Doha on November 30, 2022 [Hafsa Adil/Al Jazeera]
Pele’s famous jersey, on display at the exhibition on South American football in Doha, on November 30, 2022 (Hafsa Adil/Al Jazeera)

Both World Cup winners have wide smiles on their faces and trophies in their hands. Fans take selfies with their arms around the statues, ask friends to record them having a pretend conversation with the players or simply mimic holding the trophy with them.

These statues are so popular, fans try to get photos with them even when the exhibition has closed.

“Some people stop by after we have closed for the night and beg us to let them take a photo with the statues,” one of the security guards told Al Jazeera after the exhibition had shut for the night.

Just then, an Argentinian fan began pleading with the guard to let him through as he had a flight to catch and would not get a chance to come back the next afternoon. The guard duly obliged, letting him slip in for a quick selfie.

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