My FIFA World Cup 2022, Doha Diary.
Every cricket fan’s dream is to watch world cup T20 at Lords in London, England or MCC in Melbourne, Australia. Even if we are members of the cricket club in Chepauk and having attended a world cup match eons back in the MAC stadium Chennai, I don’t really get to see matches live any more when played. Plus there is genuinely not that killing interest. That kind of fan interest even for IPL matches has faded for me. Would want to go to the Lords or MCC but chances are remote I know. So imagine setting my foot into world class football stadiums here in Qatar for FIFA matches. I haven’t attended the Tennis grand slams in Doha. I did not attend the Arab league football. I haven’t watched the F1. I have to admit I never had the drive. However, having the World cup FIFA foot ball 2022 here is a different story. I used to feign interest in football because my son is a diehard Arsenal fan. So sometimes I would force myself to watch the world cup matches. I did catch up with world cup last time as well. Cricket I watch only if India is playing. Tuned into world cup T20 final this month that England won. But watching world cup football live in the ground is another level.
One among the 41000 strong crowd this November 27th, watching the Japan vs Costa rica match at Ahmed Bin Ali stadium near Mall of Qatar. Reached the venue far early anticipating heavy crowds. But things were so beautifully streamlined that I never felt uncomfortable. Airy breezy setting. Pleasant chill. The Japanese fans were drawing something like a Rangoli in front of the stadium and for my part I signed it saying it ‘with love from India.’ I told the Japanese guy who handed me the red marker that India loves Japan! Small happiness! His face lit up like a thousand watts bulb! Both sides’ flags were distributed and I got Japan. I am not really a football person at all so I was wondering whether I would get the game. But there it was, clear before me and I could enjoy every minute of the sport. Japan played an excellent game and dominated the field in both the first and the second half of the game but failed to convert some 10-20 opportunities to goals. Costa rica played bit of defensive game yet managed to carry the ball to the goal post that was closest to me. The moment watching the goal kicked keeps replaying in my mind now. That was godsend! And how the crowds erupted springing to their feet with loud chants! Electrifying atmosphere! Very neat and nice and easiest goal. It reminded me of how life is really. The hardworking talented Japan lost the match but in spirit, by merit to me they were the winners. Its more about how the game is played. How good you are in the sport. How professional and thoroughly well versed you are. The goal execution did not materialize but that does not mean the side is loser. Costa rica played a not so offensive game but lady luck was on their side. Japan is a very industrious side, that was straight away apparent. I don’t mean to underwrite Costa rica but even the amateur me may have seen better sides. Its okay. All in the game as they say. When India is not playing any sport, we can truly enjoy a game as I discovered watching Pakistan take on England in the final of the recently concluded world cup T20 cricket at MCC. England was a consistent team throughout the championship. I would have hated it had India reached the final because, every single match in the runup was won by India by one run or slender margin when the game could have gone either way. Nobody becomes world champ by fluke. You have to have the spark in you and your record must speak for you. A championship must be well deserved and honestly earnt. I do hope Japan will do better in next round. Disappointment was writ large on the faces of Japanese fans. It was exhilarating experience taking the metro rail to the stadium with a mix of international fans who had done body painting, who wrapped their bodies with their national flags and who were tattooed and with some of them carrying drums, trumpets and guitars slid across their shoulders. There has not been a train ride without someone breaking out into foot tapping music. Americans especially. Nobody is as boisterous and loud as them. Humanity is one. This is what world cup underscores. Everybody is happy. There is so much of goodness in this world that we must focus on, leaving the dirt behind. Humanity wins. It doesn’t matter to us who wins. Both the winner and the loser are family. That’s the spirit of world cup.
Dec 4th was the match between England and Senegal. As expected it was a fine match. Once again got lucky to catch two goals struck straight in front of my eyes in the goal post right in front of us by England. The third one in the second half was scored on the opposite side but still could catch glimpse of it. The goals scored right before our eyes remain unforgettable. The footwork, the tackles and the passing of the England team are proofs to why theirs is one of the finest football teams. I have to give credit to Senegal who were doing a good job to start with. Excellent defence but their enthusiasm fizzled out when England hit the second goal. The England goalie needs a special mention. Worth the money. We prefered to drive out to the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor which was constructed by my hubby’s company in collaboration with an Italian contractor. Although he was in another project then, this is still their best where the inauguration was held. It has a 7 star pavilion for VVIPs, the kind of luxury you may not even find in yachts. Al Bayt has excellent landscaping and a string of restaurants strewn about plus it is designed like a bedouin tent. The walkways and everything around is bedouin themed after the wandering nomads of the Arabian deserts. The roof is bedouin textile fabric waterproofed. We reached the venue hours earlier to get a slot in the carpark that can accommodate tens of thousands of automobiles. Otherwise, we must take metro to Lusail and from there hop into shuttle service to the stadium (which is available every ten minutes). It was a long drive into the desert and the stadium is a feather in the cap of heavy civil industrial engineering company that is my hubby’s. More than the world cup foot ball matches, I am also going there to have a good look at the stadiums. Not to forget milling with the international crowds.
Dec 5th was our third playoff Japan vs Croatia at Al Wakra stadium. Drove over as Wakra is close. The patriotism of the Japanese never ceases to amaze me. Got my face painted with Japanese flag but bagged a Croatia flag throwing onlookers off guard! The Japanese guys were upbeat distributing plastic bags for trash collection. One group never took to their seat and were sloganeering ‘Nippo Nippo’ beating drums the entire time and I really felt bad when the team tied up and lost on Penalty kicks in the indecisive match. But Croatia like any European team played a powerful game and the Japan that I saw dominate against Costa Rica was very tame against the Europeans. Both goals were on the goal post opposite still could not miss them. But the penalty kicks were on my side and i was simply over the moon watching them from closest quarters. Truly brought out the flair of the goalies (goal keepers). The excitement in the football stadium could outweigh even the match interest for spectators! That is how infectious is the cheer and buoyant mood. Feel good factor for the crowds.
In my personal observation, I find that the tallest Europeans make the best passes and cover greater territory in defence. The shorter Asian Japanese naturally could manage only shorter passes. I loved it when Croatia scored a goal with headbutting and tied with Japan 1-1. Physical fitness is extremely important. I loved the opening ceremonies when the national flags of respective teams were carried in and displayed as their national anthems played. Whichever, the spectators were on foot giving the playing countries the respect they deserved. It is at moments like this one when you realize, it does n’t matter where you come from. I felt no difference between Senegal, Croatia, England, Japan and Costa rica. They were all the same to me and I showed equal respect to all. The crowds did.
With this our play off matches run out, and we haven’t so far been successful in getting tickets for quarter or semi finals or finals. We keep trying. For me this is lifetime experience. More than dream come true. Sometimes when our dreams don’t come true, it means something better or perhaps the best is in the offing! So what if MCC and Lords couldn’t materialize, the FIFA fruit fell right into my lap without asking! And I couldn’t have wished for more. This one month is like carnival here in Qatar even if things are low key. And i am soaking greedily every single minute in this paradise because soon this phase will be over. Still, the gift the residents of Qatar are bestowed with is like so precious that each and everyone of us shall cherish this blessing for the rest of our life.