World Cup fans create festival feel despite teething issues

Organisers will need to learn from long queues and water shortages as numbers surge in coming days

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World Cup fans from around the globe are bringing a festival feel to the Qatari capital Doha — with tens of thousands more set to arrive in the coming days.

From Colombia and Mexico to Wales and Spain, supporters have flown thousands of kilometres and spent thousands of dollars to witness teams play in the Middle East's first World Cup.

On Sunday night, there were teething problems at one of the largest fan zones, Bidda Park in central Doha, which can accommodate about 40,000 people.

There were long queues tightly packed into a narrow entrance outside Bidda Park before it opened at 4pm, while no water stalls or fountains were available outside the fan zone.

A group of fans surged in front of the barriers at one stage as tempers flared, although security showed restraint and appeared to quickly clock what was happening.

“The fan zone is huge, it was a bit chaotic getting in and there was a lot of pushing and shoving,” said fan Jadran Vulinovic, an Australian of Croatian descent.

“It wasn’t clear what was going on; we queued at one place for 20 minutes but it was going nowhere. So, it was a bit unnerving but we eventually got in OK after another half hour or so.”

Ecuador rolled over host Qatar 2-0 in the opening match later in the evening, after a dazzling opening ceremony that featured a unifying call for humanity from Morgan Freeman, dance troupes, Arabic singers and spectacular light show.

Qatar’s loss may have dampened local spirits but not the anticipation among the thousands of other fans eagerly awaiting the arrival of their own teams.

Mr Vulinovic, who works in information technology, has six match tickets to watch both sides play in Doha, and is confident that the coming couple of weeks will be exciting.

“We are staying in Al Khor for a few days, then heading to one of the fan villages,” he said.

“Transport around Doha has been pretty good, but it has been a bit of a culture shock for us.

“Because we are staying up north, the landscape is so alien. We are used to the greenery of Melbourne but this is just so different.

“We are here for 12 nights, and have been planning to come for a while after missing so many holidays during Covid.”

Australia face a tough group alongside France, Tunisia and Denmark, while Croatia will play Morocco, Belgium and Canada, which is competing in its first World Cup since 1986.

Mr Vulinovic’s son Ben was getting his first taste of a World Cup.

“It is a tough call to choose between supporting Croatia or Australia, but if both get to the final it would have to be the Aussies,” he said.

“But I don’t give us much hope of getting past the quarter-finals, so I will be following Croatia too.

“I wasn’t prepared for the heat. We were walking around most of the day and I wasn’t prepared, it was tough.”

'I can't say how much I spent to be here — I don't want my wife to find out!'

Nick and Adrian from Wrexham, Wales, reckon their side can go all the way in the country's first World Cup since 1958. Andy Scott / The National

Earlier, supporters across the city arrived at some hotels, where the finishing touches were still being applied as they checked in and unloaded their bags.

Others found tent fan villages on the outskirts of Doha fell well below expectations, with insufficient air conditioning or a shortage of fresh drinking water.

Two Welsh fans from Wrexham, Adrian and Nick — both 47 — have tickets for their country's games against Iran and the US.

“It was tough getting a week away from home, but a World Cup doesn’t happen very often,” said Adrian, an engineer.

“I have spent about £2,000 for flights, tickets and accommodation on a cruise ship — it all seems well organised so far.”

Nick, also an engineer, said there were “a lot of Welsh on the cruise ship we are on, so it is good fun”.

“It is a mix of diehard Welsh fans who have followed the team for years and others who want to experience a World Cup for the first time,” he said.

“I can’t say how much it has cost as I don’t want my wife to find out but it has been expensive. It has take a long time to qualify so we can’t wait for it all to start — I think Wales can go all the way.”

Updated: November 21, 2022, 4:31 PM