A few years ago, if you had asked any football (or soccer - take your pick) fan to list fifty countries most likely to host a World Cup in the next twenty years, it is probably safe to say that very few of them would have considered the gulf state of Qatar. So, when FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced that Qatar would host the 2022 tournament, it was only the supremely confident Qataris who were not shocked.
So, when FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced
that Qatar would host the 2022
tournament, the capital city, Doha,
exploded in a spontaneous city-wide celebration that lasted for two whole days.
Traffic ground to a halt as locals took to the streets in their cars and SUVs,
standing on the roofs and waving massive Qatari flags. Hastily spray painted
messages on the sides of the vehicles declared love for Qatar at the expense of
expensive bodywork, and more than a few engines were damaged irreparably by the
deafening symphony of revving and backfiring.
Qataris, winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup was about so much more
than football, though it is by far the biggest sport in the country. Becoming
the 2022 host was the moment their nation arrived on the world stage.
The recently-renamed Qatar Stars League
(QSL) has been the nation’s top-level domestic competition for about 50 years
and currently contains twelve first-division teams. The current champions,
Lekhwiya, have existed as a football club since 1938. If you happen to be
visiting Qatar during football season, a Qatari football match is a unique
experience. Attendees are usually very modest, and there are none of the extras
that you might expect at a sporting event, like jumbo TV screens and half-time
entertainment. Live football in Qatar is football in the raw.
Watching it live
temptation when attending a game is to choose the biggest and best venue:
Khalifa International Stadium, host of the recent Asian Cup grand final between
Australia and Japan. Of all the existing stadiums in Qatar, only this
architecturally-impressive structure will be used for the 2022 World Cup. It is
large and modern, and has a great atmosphere when full, but international
matches are scarce.
reason, most people will need to head to a QSL game at a smaller suburban
ground to get a football fix while in Qatar. Most of the grounds are similar to
each other, in that they are not very big, not very modern, and not
particularly attractive, but two of the best are Al Sadd and Qatar SC Stadium.
Al Sadd, by
design or by accident, has acoustics that amplify any crowd noise - sometimes
alarmingly - and seats that make you feel like you are sitting on the field.
The open air Qatar SC Stadium is a bit larger and can be less atmospheric, but
there is something special about sitting in the warm evening air as dusk
envelopes the desert and nearby skyscrapers reflect the setting sun.
Watching in comfort
the majority of Qataris, you would prefer to watch your football on the
television, a great way to do it in style is to head with them to Souq
Waqif and surround yourself with comfortable cushions, a meal, tea and
perhaps a shisha. On most weeknights during the football season, nearly all
cafes and restaurants in the souq will have a TV or (more likely) a projector
tuned to the game, watched by a lively and fun group of locals and expats. Even
if the Arabic commentary means nothing to you, align yourself with the team
supported by the other patrons and cheer along.
The article 'Watching football in QatarWatching football in Qatar' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.