(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) ''If that had gone in, we would have been here till the morning,'' Waleed said, with a heavy sigh.
It's 94 minutes into Argentina's quarterfinal clash with Belgium a little after 10.15pm and Messi just botched the coup de grace.
The result wouldn't have been little affected save, perhaps, for a more pleasing scoreline, but try telling Flea fans that a goal would have had mere aesthetic value. ''He's scored in every game (almost) and that would have put him at the top of the scorer board (wrong again),'' Waleed said. As it turned out, it didn't need a fifth Messi special to keep Waleed and his friends holed up at the shisha cafe in Sarooj until well past midnight.
''He didn't have an assist either. He's not injured, is he'' Abdullah asked, eliciting sighs and web searches. The Sunday workday is as much of an afterthought as Argentina's first venture to the World Cup semifinals in 24 years. And that's being generous.
For near one month or since Messi scored that 65th minute winner against Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 16 workdays after Albiceleste matches have been sick days for Waleed and Abdullah, bank employees both.
''We weren't allowed to take annual leave during the World Cup,'' Waleed explained. That, and Messi's run of late, at-the-death, heroics (the instance above clocked in at around 3am), meant the debates and analyses would run well into the next day. As the scheduling would have it, the daybreak sit-downs after have, heretofore, been on weekdays. After the third joint sick day (or ''work at home day'') in two weeks coinciding with that brilliant curling free kick against Nigeria it's been unpaid leave.
Not that that's mattered. ''We wouldn't have been able to focus at work. We had to discuss Messi's delayed pass (the near-mythic la pausa final ball) to Angel di Maria for his (118th minute, or around 10pm) goal (in the pre-quarter clash) against Switzerland,'' Abdullah said.
''And his goal (91st minute) against Iran. That was beautiful.'' Waleed and Abdullah aren't alone in succumbing to what is literally the ''World Cup fever''.
According to a pre-tournament survey of 18,000 professionals in ten Middle Eastern countries by recruitment agency GulfTalent, over 50 per cent of respondents had planned to stay up late to watch their favourite teams play.
The next day, the poll showed, a third of all employees said they would go to work tired and one in ten would come in late. Nearly ten per cent would opt for a day of annual leave while three per cent said they were likely to call in sick.
Like Waleed and Abdullah (as also others in the group who declined to be inrviewed). Admittedly the survey's numbers and sample group weren't Oman-specific. Though a few section heads and managers (in professions and positions that figured on the survey too) confirmed suspected World Cup-related absenteeism at workplaces around Muscat, none could attest to how accurate the percentages have been at this time.
''It's not unexpected. That survey only highlighted what we had already known,'' said a manager-level employee at an oil and gas major in the city. ''People calling in sick after the late matches, especially the ones which had the big teams, wasn't widespread but we did have a few instances.'' ''We have firm HR policies on this though and people got the message early and often. Anyway, it's not like we aren't fans either. The company has given a wide berth to employees discussing results and scenarios at the workplace. Within limits.''
A third of those polled said they would devote some time at work to going over match and group scenarios and moments that defined the tournament. ''There were Suarez memes. And after the Netherlands win (against Costa Rica), we had an e-mail go around with the Dutch team's fight song. Now that's just wrong,'' joked the manager, who has been cheering the Germans on from the Ramadan tent at the Marjan lounge, Grand Hyatt.
Outside, in the shadow of the Hyatt, the Candle Cafe offers a more low-key, but high-decibel, setting to take in the games. The nondescript beachfront joint has apparently been a favourite of Italian football fans. Joe, an intern at an architectural major, decided against skipping out on work after the Azzuri's crucial group match against England.
''I'm not eligible for leave, but I had to stay up for that match (start time 2am). Any Italy fan would have. It was worth going to work late,'' said Joe, who later found the bite in his favoured green mint tea victory drink too caustic following his team's exit at Uruguayan hands. Though he took satisfaction in ''Suarez having a worse taste in his mouth''.
For a time, Ahmed said, he was the ''lone Ronaldo jersey'' in Al Makan Cafe's ''yellow sea of Brazil supporters''. A junior partner at a financial consultancy, Ahmed knew he'd need a day off after Germany's thrashing of Portugal in their opening game.
''They wouldn't let me live it down. It would have only made things worse,'' said Ahmed, who took ribbing as he switched loyalties to the Brazilians after what he maintains was collusion between Germany and the US that kept Portugal and CR7' from progressing.
''Ronaldo was just coming into the zone. He had that amazing pass (the looping 95th minute assist which set up the leveller) against the US (despite the late finish, he did make it in to work). They were scared of him.'' The US got their comeuppance, he said, but ''Germany might get away with it now that Neymar is injured''.
''I may need a long leave (if they do). I'll be that angry.'' Likewise for Azaan, a law firm employee who spent the day after the French loss to Germany ''moping'' at work, humming the La Marseillaise down from martial bombast to mournful dirge.
''Thankfully, it's Ramadan and I get to leave early. Too many German fans at work.'' For Waleed and Abdullah, the reduced hours means, in theory, more time to recover for (and from) Argentina's games, both of which will be over before suhoor. But, Waleed said, ''Win or lose, I don't know (what I'll do).''