Doha eerily calm before Fifa World Cup storm

Schools close and roads empty as hundreds of thousands of fans prepare to jet in

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The streets of Doha were eerily quiet on a Monday morning as a nation gets ready for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shine on the global sporting stage.

With the Fifa World Cup due to start in less than a week, Qatar is preparing to look its best as the greatest show on Earth comes to town.

It is hard to imagine the difference just a few days will make, as hundreds of thousands of fans pour into Qatar every day from this weekend.

Up to 1.5 million fans are expected to visit during the 29-day event, almost half the population of the Gulf state.

Many will be visiting the Middle East for the first time, creating a unique opportunity to capture a new audience of tourists in the years ahead.

A Brazil fan at the Corniche Waterfront ahead of the Fifa World Cup. Getty

Passenger arrival zones at the airports, decked out in Qatari maroon and with Fifa livery, will process the thousands of special shuttle flights due to land into Doha from around the region.

While Fifa flags fluttered in the breeze alongside national emblems of the 32 teams taking part, aside from the thousands of extra workers drafted in to ensure the tournament runs without a hitch, there were few signs a World Cup was just days away.

As Doha prepares to welcome a huge influx of visitors, it has already said farewell to thousands of blue collar construction workers who built the World Cup infrastructure, including seven new stadiums, promenades and hotels.

At an otherwise deserted Doha International Airport on Monday morning, queues of migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and Nepal waited patiently in line to board flights to Dubai, and then home.

Passengers at Hamad International Airport in Doha. PA

Many spent months and even years working in the country and were looking their best with fresh haircuts and new clothes to return to their families.

Meanwhile, some 4,500 new arrivals into Doha the week will be security personnel from Pakistan.

They join a multi-national force of Turkish, Jordanian and Moroccan uniformed police officers, as well as crowd-control experts from the UK and US to ensure the tournament plays out trouble-free.

Aside from the occasional traffic police patrol on the quieter-than-usual city roads, there was little sign of any significant security presence. The eyes of the world will be on Qatar on Sunday, when the host nation kicks off the tournament against Ecuador at the 80,000-seater Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Like many previous World Cups, the hosts hope a Qatar win sets fire to the event and captures the imagination of those with only a passing interest in football.

Qatar has formed a competitive team, largely thanks to drafting in players from overseas and experience in competing in South America’s national tournament, the Copa America, as an invited nation in 2021.

Ecuador will provide them with an early test.

The South Americans finished fourth in their qualifying group, with notable draws against Brazil and Argentina - two pre-tournament favourites to reach the final on December 18.

Lives on hold

Everyday life for the city's residents has been put on hold as the tournament approaches.

School days have been reduced and many employees told to stay home to work remotely so final preparations can be made and congestion on the roads minimised in the build-up.

Around 80 per cent of workers have been told to stay home until the tournament ends.

Much has been compromised to ensure the first World Cup in the Arab world is a success. Only time will tell how it will play out.

Updated: November 15, 2022, 6:50 AM