When Praneesh Prasad received a call from his boss to say he'd won two tickets to the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar, he didn't believe him. "My boss used to work at New Zealand Football, so had been on at me for a while to buy a Qatar lottery ticket before the draw closed. I'd not given it much thought since buying the ticket, so when he called me all excited at 10pm, and knowing he likes a wind up, I wasn't convinced. But he was right, the ticket number was a match, and I couldn't believe it when they confirmed I'd won. They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so I’m glad I took the shot”. Said Praneesh.
Praneesh was one of eight lucky winners who received flights, accommodation and three match tickets for two people in the New Zealand Football Foundation world cup lottery. Praneesh, a Sales Manager at Stellar, took his longtime partner Simone, who at that point had never even been to a professional football match. "Simone had only ever watched me play social football at Bucklands Beach, and that was very reluctantly, so I think it's fair to say her expectations were surpassed in Qatar".
On the experience of visiting Qatar for the first time, Praneesh was impressed. "We were staying about 10mins from downtown Doha which was a great location. We found it easy to get around and the people were friendly and helpful. The food was fantastic and with all the fans from different countries it had a really nice vibe. The Foundation really smashed it out of the park organising this trip for us".
Praneesh and Simone went to four matches during their time in Qatar, with the standout being Japan's 2-1 win over Germany. "Our first game was with two great sets of fans and a late, come from behind win. It was hot, but the stadiums were next level with air conditioning underneath our seats and coming down from the roof, so you didn't notice the heat during the game".
Praneesh was hugely impressed with the Japanese fans who stayed to help clean the stadium after their win over Germany, but some other fans also caught the eye. "The Mexican bands and the noisy English were right up there, but the Saudi fans were probably my favourite. After that first game, [where they caused a big upset, beating eventual winners Argentina 2-1] and for the whole of our stay in Qatar, you could hear fans chanting 'where's Messi?’"
On his once in a lifetime holiday, Praneesh said, "a mate of mine had been rubbing it in for 12 months that he was going to the World Cup. So, I think he was both delighted and devastated to find out my girlfriend and I were going for $20 [the price of the ticket], when he'd saved up for a year. We managed to catch up with him and his family who were over from the UK whilst we were there, which was really nice".
But the real highlight of the trip came just a couple of days in, when Praneesh asked Simone to marry him. "I'd been planning on asking her, but this trip bumped up my timeline a little bit. I'm glad she said yes as it would have made for an awkward last week."
On the details of the proposal, Praneesh said. "We booked a desert safari cruise and my mate who was with us had advised our driver that I was going to pop the question. He drove us through the sand dunes to the highest point of the desert, walked us over and said, with a wink, this is a great place to 'take a photo'. As we posed for the photo I said ''oops my shoelace is untied, got down on one knee and despite the combination of nervousness and the Qatar heat, which had me sweating up a storm, I asked the question and got the answer I was looking for". The happy couple, both 28, plan to marry at a Kumeu winery in March 2024.
A football theme even flowed into Praneesh's recent stag do. "We flew down to Wellington for a long weekend, during which we went to the Phoenix's 5-2 win over Brisbane". When pressed as to whether his allegiances will switch to the new Auckland team next year, Praneesh said "That's tough, but as an Aucklander I think I have to. When we came back from Qatar Simone and I got well into the Women's World Cup, so I'm sure we'll check out the new team next year."
The Football Foundation Lottery for the 2022 Qatar World Cup saw a total of $124,120 shared with 134 clubs across New Zealand as part of a grassroots fundraising initiative that split ticket sale revenue with the buyer’s club of choice. Praneesh’s own club Bucklands Beach received $1,730 (from 173 tickets sold), whilst East Coast Bays topped club ticket sales in New Zealand (with 445 tickets sold).
The New Zealand Football Foundation would like to thank every individual and business that bought a ticket for the Qatar World Cup Lottery, and to all the clubs for their support. Please look out for our next exciting fundraising initiative coming in 2024.
The Qatar Men’s World Cup was played from 20 November to 18 December 2022. The next iteration of the tournament will take place in 16 cities across Canada, USA and Mexico from June to July 19, 2026. Qualification for the expanded 48-team tournament is expected to be confirmed in March 2025.
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