The moment Qatar has been waiting for since 2010 has finally arrived when the 2022 FIFA World Cup is ready.
But even before the opening game on Sunday 20th, the excitement was already starting to spread throughout the Gulf countries.
Fans danced in the streets and printed soccer jerseys sold out like sweetened “karak” (milk tea). A series of miniature flags adorn corner shops, forecourts, schools and skyscrapers, and are topped with giant football hero posters.
Bernard Wanjiku, a shopkeeper from Kenya, told Al Jazeera at his Africa store in the old bustling neighborhood of Al Mansoura, “I see more and more people on the street every day. New faces.”
From African clothing and accessories to beauty products, the Butterfly Beauty store boasts everything you need. To accommodate the occasion, the store underwent a minor makeover. Now Wanjiku also sells football flags, stickers, badges, wigs and jerseys, among other things, and seems happy with his business.
“Argentina, Brazil and Qatar were the most popular countries when I started selling flags,” he exclaimed over the World Cup anthem blaring on the radio.
Holding up the only remaining Black Stars flag, he added, “Now there is a sudden demand for African flags and jerseys. Countries like Ghana, Senegal and Morocco are the most popular. In fact, I almost sold out of Ghana. banner.”
Al Mansoura is home to low- and middle-income communities from Africa, South Asia, and the Philippines. But the area has recently undergone a major transformation with the introduction of a metro station, the construction of new shops and residential buildings and roadworks.
Al Mansoura is centrally located just a few metro stops away from several World Cup stadiums. It is only 6 kilometers away from the nearest 974 stadium, and it only takes 10 minutes by car or three stops by subway.
The taxi driver stopped to drink cup after cup of milk tea. And many young people, mostly from South Asia, were relaxing on street corners after a hard day’s work before making predictions for the World Cup. This is a vibrant multicultural community.
All things to do in central Doha
Musheireb is the oldest district in the capital, Doha, and is where the country’s first brightly lit streets emerged. Now. Here is a gleaming clean new downtown.
Single-storey mud huts, ‘baqaalas’ (corner shops) and restaurants built in the 70s once stood here. But narrow streets clogged with traffic are a thing of the past. Today, these have been replaced by purpose-built tram systems and high-rise buildings housing five-star hotels and fancy restaurants.
Construction and renovations that began after Qatar won the World Cup came to an end a few weeks ago. Finishing touches such as last-minute restoration and paint work on the hotel and museum buildings are still in progress.
Fans coming to the downtown area of New Mashreb can look forward to watching all football matches on the big screen, delving into the history of Qatar through related exhibitions and screenings, and cheering on the home team at al-Annabi Village. There are immersive experiences and exhibitions that trace the history of Qatari football, or enjoy a variety of art and cultural exhibitions, including Frida Kahlo’s Immersive Biography and ‘Forever Valentino’, a tribute to Italian fashion. Tribute to the capital.
Walk less than a kilometer through Mshreb and you’ll reach Souq Waqif. It has long been the center of Doha and the most popular tourist center. Now, it’s a 24-hour party zone. It is packed with fans from all over the world.
Meanwhile, the sprawling Al-Bidda park, home to the FIFA Fans Festival, is just a 20-minute walk from Khakif Souq. The Corniche is less than a kilometer to the west. And the barricades and police forces around parks, bazaars and the Corniche can be seen from afar. Because the area has been regulated exclusively for walking to ease the flow of crowds during the World Cup.
If you look up from Arbida Park at night, you’ll see a couple of football players passing the ball in the air. The lights will then flash and the words “Welcome to Qatar” will appear. Drone shows, fireworks and light shows are among the dozens of nightly displays planned to attract fans during the game.
On land, fan parades have become a common sight along the Corniche. Men, women and children of all ages and nationalities come together to dance, cheer and sing for their favorite teams. Brazil, Argentina, Morocco, Senegal and England are by far the favorites.
Although these fans were called “fake” or “borrowed” by some international news outlets, it did not affect their mental outlook. Regardless of their origin, they love football. And Messi is an outstanding icon.
Wearing national flags of various colors, they appeared in hub areas such as the main road in Lusail, and hundreds of people marched with the sound of drums. This is where Lusail Stadium is located.
Which team do you support?
“I’m Qatar, but I support Argentina. The reason is simple, I love Messi and so does my mother,” said Sara al-Haji, a Qatari media student.
Sarah and her friends from Qatar University set up a booth at the Katara Cultural Village. The cultural village is a collection of art galleries, amphitheatres, restaurants and beaches, and is a 10-minute drive or metro ride from central Doha.
Sarah would serve Arabic coffee, biscuits, and more to learn about Qatari and Islamic culture for passers-by.
Sarah’s friend Dalal added, “We feel the need to change the image of Qatar and Islam in the eyes of Westerners.” Their small facility includes a World Cup-themed activity corner with team coloring pages, stickers, badges and flags for children and more.
“We had quite a few Argentinian fans stop by for our coffee and chat with us. They made TikTok videos about Qatar and said they would support our team.”
From fashion shows, to concerts and theater performances, to children’s activities and amusement parks, there are events happening across the country. Schools and kindergartens have also held their own World Cup parties to celebrate the early end of term.
Kids dressed in their favorite team colors danced to the game’s soundtrack and held a cardboard version of the World Cup trophy.
The excitement is building, the festivities are in full swing and the race teams are arriving. Opening Day is approaching, so let the games begin.