DOHA - Football fans in Doha have been flocking to see a collection of World Cup memorabilia put on show by two Qatari brothers and featuring medals, balls and shirts worn by the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as some more obscure items.
Fans from all over the world have been able to view everything from a shirt issued to Netherlands winger Arjen Robben for the 2010 final in South Africa to Diego Maradona's USA 94 World Cup ID among the rare soccer artefacts owned by the Almeer brothers, Esmael and Khalid.
"I collected cards and stickers and swapped them with other children at school as a child in the USA. We moved back to Qatar but the love for collecting sports memorabilia stayed with me ever since," Esmael told Reuters, explaining the genesis of the collection.
A former player for Qatar's national youth teams, Esmael saw the tournament as a perfect opportunity to share their collections with the world.
"Me and my brother Khalid, who is also an avid World Cup memorabilia collector, organised a football collectibles exhibition at the Katara cultural village on the sidelines of the World Cup in Qatar."
England fan Simon Ebrington was wide-eyed as he took in the objects on show.
"It's an insane amount of memorabilia ... I saw some photos over there and images of Roberto Carlos, he's my all-time number one footballer," he told Reuters.
The shirts are displayed behind glass panels on the walls at Building 18 in the Katara cultural centre with other items, including a promotional ball for the 2002 World Cup signed by Pele and a staff pass for the 1966 final at Wembley, which are stored in glass cases.
FAMOUS NUMBER 7
Portugal's Ronaldo may be wearing his famous number 7 at his fifth World Cup, but back in 2006 he wore number 17 as he made his tournament debut, and the Almeer brothers have one of his shirts from the third-place playoff against Germany in their exhibition.
"I now have 150 match worn shirts and I focus mainly on World Cup shirts and European Championship shirts," Esmael says, adding that his favourite shirt is one from the former Yugoslavia that was worn by striker Davor Suker.
As indicated by the sale of Maradona's "Hand Of God" shirt from the 1986 World Cup for 7.14 million pounds to an anonymous buyer, rare items can have enormous value, and collectors have to be wary of fakes on the market.
"Alan Ball's shirt from the 1966 World Cup final just sold at auction for 130,000 pounds this morning, and I would expect a 2022 winning shirt from Argentina, England or Brazil to fetch between 100,000 and 200,000 pounds," expert Barry Rojack of the Irish Sports Museum told Reuters.
Esmael says that the most valuable item they have is a 1978 World Cup winner's medal and that he sources most of his shirts through a company in the United Kingdom.
"The owner is a reliable and trusted seller who buys from retired footballers and then helps collectors build their match-worn shirt collections," he said.
Esmael got a surprise early on in the exhibition when visitor Alex Tobin pointed to a very rare Australia shirt that had been worn in a game against Sweden in 1996 -- and told the collector that he had worn the shirt while playing centre-back for Australia in that game.
"I didn't even know when I met him, he's such a humble person," Esmael said, with a note of incredulity.
"We had visitors from all over the world walk in to our exhibition, and this was a joyful experience that I'll never forget," he added.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Hugh Lawson)