Our men in the desert are desperatly trying to find things to do apart from the football in Doha. But they are struggling. It’s got so bad they had started having flashbacks to previous football tournaments.
There have been some interesting mascots for tournaments throughout the years. Of course there is the legendary World Cup Willie from 1966, which probably today wouldn’t get past any kind of scrutiny. There was the small orange called Naranjita from Spain 82, and what looked like a chilli wearing an out-sized sombrero for Mexico 86. Then of course, we had the red, white and green lego figure for Italia 90. As for the London Olympics next year, what on earth were they thinking? What I am trying to get across here is that mascots are everywhere for these kinds of tournaments, but what purpose do they actually serve?
It’s all very well having them, but for most people attending these things, they have no meaning whatsoever. I suppose they are mainly for kids, as they adorn shirts and other bits of merchandise. Oh hang on, we’ve been down this one before.
For this tournament, the organisers have gone to town and gone for a family of five mascots. Yes that’s right, five. There are five different venues for this competition, and I suppose that they have got a different one for each. Certainly the tickets for each venue are a different colour, so I would guess that is why there are so many. However for the World Cup, does this mean that if they have 12 venues, there are going to be 12 different mascots? That’s a whole team plus one sub. What kind of competition only allows one sub nowadays? The mascots are a family of Jerboas, which is an animal found in the Arabian desert, in case you were wondering. You learn something new every day.
The mascots have been seen at most of the games, and were wondering around outside the stadium at the Al-Saad on Monday. They even performed a dance on stage before wondering off for photographs with kids and big kids alike.
In and around the stadium there isn’t a lot to do. There is a display of birds of prey, which is a Middle East custom. There is also a display of ball juggling, and a few video games to play as well. If this doesn’t float your boat, then you also have a person who can do your caricature. Honestly, there is someone to draw your picture if you need it, for the bargain price of £2. The other great pre-match entertainment that we have seen was tonight at the Khalifa Stadium, where you could have had a ride around the car park on a camel. Only time constraints held both me and Dan back.
There seems to be little in common between the stadiums. For example, at some we have been able to keep our whole tickets, while at others bits have been ripped off. There is also a difference between the food outlets and toilets. At the Qatar Sports Club, you have to go back through the turnstiles to go to get something to eat, or go to the toilet. The contrast is at Al-Saad, where it is all available once you have gone through the turnstiles.
The one thing that has been a constant at all the stadiums that we have been to is that they have all had bouncy castles placed outside. There have been several at each of the stadiums, although I haven’t seen anyone use them yet.
There are fans parks planned for 2022, and so there is plenty of time to get lots of entertainment arranged. There is talk of these being able to sell alcohol, which will please lots of people. Alcohol here is not served anywhere except certain hotel bars. There is a warehouse that sells it, but you will need a permit just to enter; it is very strictly controlled.
Wednesday 12th January: Group A, Qatar v China, Khalifa Stadium
This is the first of our games that we have attended that has been an evening kick off, as the previous four have all been 4.15pm kick offs. However, around half way through the second half, it has started to get a bit on the cooler side, and as a result this is the first game we’ve been to out here where we have not gone in shorts.
The idea of playing the World Cup in January has been mentioned recently, and it’s now easy to see why. It may be warm for the first half of games at this time of year, but once the sun has gone down, the temperature does drop quite quickly.
We’ve seen the Chinese already, and they looked quite good in their 2-0 win over Kuwait, but this is our first and only chance to see Qatar. They lost their opening game by the same score to Uzbekistan, and so the pressure is already on them to get a result so that their tournament isn’t over after two games. The Saudi’s sacked their coach after they lost their opening game to Syria, and it isn’t beyond the realms of possibilities that the same could happen to the hosts.
The game starts in a bit of a flurry, and the hosts have an early chance when one of the Chinese defenders slips, and presents Sebastian Soria with a glorious chance, twelve yards out and in the centre of the goal. He fluffs the chance, and the crowd groans its disappointment.
The organisers haven’t been able to sell the tickets for this one (the crowd is eventually just over 30,000), and so have invited along a load of school kids. Their enthusiasm is undoubted, although the supervision by their teachers leaves a bit to be desired, as they are allowed to run around almost at will. The Chinese have a chance through Zhao Peng, but his header goes wide, then the hosts hit the side netting through Yousef Ahmed, but on 27 minutes the same player puts the hosts in front with a right footed half volley from the edge of the area which brings the crowd to it’s feet. This has reduced the tension levels in the home crowd, although there is still some as the kids are starting to get annoying. The high pitched squeaking is bringing back memories of schoolboy internationals at Wembley, when the crowd was almost only audible to any passing bats.
China are not looking like the team we saw on the weekend, and there is a bit of dissent from Gao Lin, who has already been booked and is intent on arguing with the referee. He is replaced before the break, but two minutes later, the score becomes 2-0, as Ahmed scores his second with another right foot shot on the turn.
Half time comes and the home side are well in control. The kids disappear for the 15 minutes, which is great as my ear drums need a rest. You can tell the half is about to begin again as they start to run back in, and the inflatable sticks are employed again. The game though is cagier than the first. Qatar are content to sit back and try to protect what they have, venturing forward on the break. China seem to lack any kind of idea to break them down, in contrast to Saturday. We are stumped as to how they can be so different in just a few days.
The game peters out, with Qatar trying to break now against ten, with Zhao Peng having gone off injured with 15 minutes to go, and all of the substitutes have been made. Qatar have now registered their first win of the competition, and the group is wide open again.
More photos from their adventures in the desert can be found here