Day 7 and it is time for our intrepid duo to head back home after a week in the desert. But not before just one more game – and what a game too – Australia v South Korea. Over to you Brian.
Our work here is nearly done. Today is the final day for us here in Doha, and it’s been great. The weather has been excellent, we’ve not managed to spend that much (mainly because there hasn’t been much that either of us has wanted to buy), and the football has been ok as well. Our last game of the trip is probably the biggest of the week; Australia v South Korea.
So, looking back on our week, a summary. Clearly much work needs to be done. The transport has been a bit chaotic at times, and if this was to be the structure put in place for 2022, then it will all go horribly wrong. The idea of a mono-rail, or any type of railway may help, but is this going to be restricted to Doha? I can not see the necessary stadiums being built in one city, so they are going to have to be spread around the country. In that case, how do people get around? We’ve already heard that the infrastructure of the country needs to improve, so with the tournament coming here, perhaps that will happen. Car hire will be at a premium, and the cost of that will go up for the month.
We’ve mentioned about the accommodation, and there will certainly need to be a larger range of options available for fans travelling here. There won’t be too many that I know that will be able to stump up the amount needed for an extended stay in a plush hotel. We only got lucky with this because we booked so far in advance, when the qualifiers were still being played. But once the hotels start to take bookings for whenever the games are to take place, then like everywhere else, the prices will go up. That’s assuming that you can get anywhere to stay. There are an estimated 60,000 hotel rooms being planned for the country, which will go some way to helping to accommodate all those that will travel.
There has also been the seemingly disjointed approach to pre-match entertainment and even the transport away from the games. Funnily enough, the day after we mentioned that no-one was aware about the shuttle buses taking people back to town after the games, we heard them being announced over the p.a. system at the end of the game. Perhaps things are improving already, and it just takes a bit of time for them to swing into action.
Preparation is the key, and this is why the host nation also has the Confederations Cup the year before the World Cup. But if the World Cup is to be played in January, then when is that going to be played? There are already enough complaints about a possible winter World Cup coming from the major European leagues, so if they wanted to play the Confeds at a similar time, that would be two years in a row that the northern Europeans would have to disrupt their schedule. Can you imagine the moaning and whinging that would produce?
This may sound like I am being highly negative about Qatar, and I don’t mean to be. The locals that we have encountered have been very friendly, and will do an excellent job in eleven years time. Assuming that most who visit here want to do more than just shop or top up the tan, then the tourist industry is going to have to raise its game, but there is time to do that. With just a few places to visit in town, most are going to be hanging around, doing very little, and a desert trip may only be for a day at best. To keep people happy and send them away with a positive memory of Qatar, there is going to have to be plenty for them to do, and while it may seem as though there is enough time to sort this out, the time will just fly by. It’s already five and a half years since London was awarded the 2012 Olympics, and that time has flown by.
As we leave Qatar, the whole question of when the tournament is going to be played in rearing its head again. The FIFA president has suggested that it could be played in January, which may appease the major European leagues to some extent, but the president of the AFC has said that the tournament will be played in June or July. Then you Michel Platini wading into the whole debate, by saying that the tournament could be spread across the whole region, and not just Qatar. Certainly for the Doha natives that were interviewed on tv after their game with China on Wednesday were convinced that the tournament would only be played in Qatar. The next few years in this respect are going to be very interesting indeed.
Anyway, its enough with that, and on to the final game of our tour. Our last game brings us back to where it all began last Saturday, at the Al-Gharafa Stadium. Hopefully this time we can get away from the ground a bit quicker as our flight home is tonight, and we can not afford to miss it. When we booked this trip, the idea of two games in a day seemed reasonable enough. The idea of four of the five stadiums being in the same city meant that we thought it would be possible. Watch the first full game, hop on the local transport or get a cab, get to the second game, and all would be good. How wrong we were. It’s like trying to get from West Ham to Arsenal in 75 minutes, only to find that the trains aren’t running, and the taxi’s won’t go near the ground. As a result, we abandoned the idea, and have only done one game per day, although as most of the sports channels on tv seem to show football almost around the clock, we haven’t missed out those games that we haven’t been able to attend.
Australia are recent additions to the AFC, moving from the Oceania confederation in 2006. The idea was that they would have a better chance of playing more meaningful games and qualifying for the World Cup, rather than having won their section, then playing off against a team from South America. To show that they have been accepted into the AFC, they will be the host nation for the next tournament, in 2015, which could also be in January. You have been warned.
South Korea are one of the power-houses of the area, having qualified for the World Cup in 1986, then every tournament since, co-hosting with Japan in 2002 and reaching the semi-finals. Hopefully, this will be a good game.
Friday 14th January: Group C, Australia 1 South Korea 1 – Al Gharafa Stadium
Quite how the first and third ranked teams in the confederation could be drawn together is a bit of a puzzle, but this is exactly what had happened when the draw for the tournament was made last year. For the first time this week, it clouded over as the game started, and it meant that the jeans were pressed into use for an afternoon game for the first time.
We are starting to get a reputation out here, particularly on the transport issue, as we now show up at the departure point for the buses, and they leave almost as soon as we are seated. There were three of us leaving the Cultural Centre today, which is a fifty per cent increase on earlier in the week. Things are going in the right direction!
This one should be a good one, but then again, most games that you think are going to be quite good turn out to be nothing of the sort, and descend into a boring game where you think that you would be better off doing something else. Thankfully, this one is of the entertaining variety, and the first chance arrives inside the first three minutes, when Park Ji Sung scuffs a shot wide. For the first twenty minutes, the Australian passing is going everywhere but where it needs to go, to another green and gold shirt. Korea are clearly the better side, and after chances at both ends, score first. It’s a simple goal, and not one often seen at tournaments, when skilful play should be the norm. A long punt downfield by the Korean goalkeeper is controlled by Ji Dong Won, and his pass goes Koo Jacheol, whose shot eludes Schwarzer and goes in. They look good value for their lead, and although the Aussies have a few half chances (Kewell puts a free kick just over the bar on the half hour), the better team leads. They could have even been two up soon after, but Ji Dong Won’s header is deflected behind for a corner by David Carney, although how much he knew about it is open for debate.
As the half draws to a close, the Australians start to get into the game. Kewell pulls a shot wide on 40 minutes, and then Cahill is about to shoot when a Korean tackle nicks the ball away just in time. At half time South Korea are 1-0 up.
The second half is end to end stuff. The chances are not quite as plentiful as they were in the first, but it’s still a pretty good game. There are a couple of chances for Park Ji Sung, as well as Cahill, although all are spurned. Australia are pressing now, and just after the hour, they equalise. A corner from the right is headed back across goal by Tim Cahill, and Mile Jedinak gets to the high ball just before the goalkeeper to head home.
There is then a period of play where Australia go back to their sloppy passing, but Korea can’t take advantage of this. As we enter the last ten minutes, we start to return to the end-to-end game again, although by now the dreaded wave is going round the stadium, with most participating except the press and VIP area’s.
Harry Kewell has a deflected shot saved, although the ball almost falls to an onrushing Brett Emerton, but the keeper clings on. Ki Sung-Yueng then has a chance, but Schwarzer makes an excellent save down to his right, which is enough to earn a point for his team. There are three additional minutes, and despite an injury to one of the Australian defenders, both teams see out the additional time, and the final is a 1-1 draw.
Thankfully, with the flight to catch, there are no more drama’s in getting home, although the driver of the coach (now with four of us on board) tries to get lost on the way back to the hotel and cultural centre. Dan’s expert navigation sees us back in plenty of time before the shuttle bus is due to leave and drop us back at the airport for the journey home. It’s been a fun week, and while it’s been great doing a game a day, I will be quite pleased to be on the way home. However, we’ve already started planning the next trip..Any one fancy the African Cup of Nations?
More photos from their adventures in the desert can be found here