Years of anticipation across the Middle East will soon be over as the Qatar World Cup kicks off in just a week.
About 1.5 million football fans from all corners of the globe are set to descend on Doha for a festival of sport that comes around once every four years.
The host nation will take on South American side Ecuador next Sunday in the first of 64 games played by 32 teams in the space of 28 days.
Qatar has sought to make the most of every inch of space available to accommodate the huge influx of tournament tourists, including turning to the seas.
A short drive from the Doha International Airport is the Mina District in West Bay where cruise ships are docked to accommodate some 10,000 supporters from around the world.
One huge vessel that dominates the skyline is the brand new 22-deck MSC World Europa, where more than 6,700 fans will be based.
Making waves at the World Cup
They will be the ship’s first paying customers and will benefit from one of the most technologically advanced cruise liners in its class.
An official naming ceremony of the luxury World Europa liner took place on Sunday.
“We are fully booked for the first two weeks of the World Cup,” said Gianni Onorato, chief executive of MSC Cruises.
“After that, we will see as it will depend on what countries go forward to the next stage of the tournament.
“The investment into the state of Qatar to host this tournament for millions of fans is clear to see.
“To actually support the overflow of people makes sense. It was the perfect opportunity to have these ships provide an extra 10,000 beds for the fans.”
Small studio cabins have been snapped up by World Cup fans for around $350 a night.
A further 2,300 fans will stay on the MSC Opera and smaller MSC Poesia, a vessel seconded from Australia to help fill Doha’s shortfall in accommodation for what will be the biggest event staged in the Middle East. Cabins there start from around $175 a night.
“These vessels will be the perfect environment for people to use as a base to then visit Doha and its cultural sites,” said Mr Onorato.
A floating football fan zone
“We are working together to manage the flow of fans and support them when they need it while they are enjoying games.
“The ships will be the perfect place for fan zones, and there will be lots of different types of activities.
“It will come alive with big screens showing each of the matches, and now the Hayya card has opened up to those without tickets we are expecting a lot more families to want to come and visit.”
Once the tournament concludes, the World Europa will begin a winter cruise season collecting passengers in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dammam in Saudi Arabia.
At 333 metres in length and 68 metres high, it is one of the biggest cruise ships in operation.
Powered by liquid natural gas and solid-oxide fuel cells, it emits less carbon compared with ships of a similar size and has an underwater radiated noise management system to limit the impact on marine life.
On board are seven swimming pools, 13 whirlpools, 13 restaurants and bars, a water park, bumper cars and a skating rink.
It even has the longest on-board metal slide that drops down 11 decks.
All three ships are moored in Doha’s Grand Terminal in West Bay, in clear view of Stadium 974 — the 40,000 seater venue named after Qatar’s dialling code, and made from 974 recycled shipping containers.
The stadium will host its first match on Tuesday, November 22 when Mexico take on Poland, followed by Portugal against Ghana two days later.
Akbar Al Baker, chairman of Qatar Tourism and Qatar Airways group chief executive, said the country is ready to go for the global event.
“Qatar Airways flights are full for all of November and December,” he said.
“Be rest assured, the state of Qatar is fully prepared for any eventuality as this is the largest sporting event in the world.
“We would not have got this from Fifa if they were not fully satisfied that in every sphere of the requirement to host the very large public event that we are prepared.
“Our ministry of public health is fully capable and equipped to meet with any eventuality when it comes to people getting sick, or if there is an emergency.
“We have already shown to the world at the peak of the pandemic how well prepared we were when there is an emergency.
“We are ready for any situation.”