A super fan who drove to Doha from Dubai with his family to attend several World Cup matches has described their week as the best experience of his life.
Dr Ali Khayat, from Iraq, used his trusty Range Rover to travel with his wife and 14-year-old son. They had planned to attend five matches but ended up buying tickets for two more because of the irresistible atmosphere surrounding the tournament.
He enjoyed the World Cup so much that he has travelled back to Qatar to attend the quarter-finals with his friends.
“It was the best time of my life,” Dr Khayat told The National. "If I knew it would be that beautiful, then I would have taken a [longer] vacation from my work during the tournament and stayed in Qatar."
A specialist in family medicine, Dr Khayat said it was the perfect World Cup for families as there were no public order issues or drunk fans in the streets to contend with, a blight that has been associated with other World Cup and Euro tournaments.
“It was a family atmosphere where you can walk around the city without fear or anxiety,” Dr Khayat told The National. "I met many international fans who told me it was the best tournament for families."
“Metro, buses, flags and face-painting were free in Qatar. I paid around Dh150 ($41) for three hotdogs and beverages in the stadium for my family. I think Qatar wasn’t aiming to make a profit from the tournament.”
Dr Khayat and his family embarked on the six-hour journey to the neighbouring Gulf nation on November 26 and returned on Sunday.
They arrived at night at the Abu Samra land border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Qatar where he met two Dubai-based Mexico fans trying to enter the country.
However, they weren’t allowed to cross the border as their Hayya card application was still pending.
He offered to buy their tickets for the Mexico match against Argentina which was due to kick off that night and he ended up buying two for Dh800 each.
“It seems they couldn’t cross the border. I checked into the accommodation and took my son to the match,” he said.
He and his family saw some of the tournament's biggest matches, involving favourites Brazil, Germany and surprise package Morocco.
While the cost of accommodation and transport costs have left him with a Dh30,000 bill, he said the memories from the week spent in and around Doha were priceless.
Dr Khayat moved to Dubai from Iraq in 2003 and has worked for a government hospital in Abu Dhabi since 2006. Driving around with a Dubai number plate turned a few heads, he said.
"Everyone was surprised when they see my Dubai plate number as most of the cars were Qatari," he added.
His son, Abdullah, said watching some of the World Cup's most thrilling matches will last in his memory for the rest of his life.
“We had unforgettable memories," he said. "I had so much fun this week thanks to my father. I have dozens of pictures and videos and a big story to tell my friends."
Wasnaa Kirawi, Dr Khayat's wife, told The National that the week in Doha was akin to a carnival.
“We had a great family time during the road trip and later in Doha,” she said.
"I enjoyed watching different teams playing against each other. It was like a carnival, with music and people dancing."
The family visited tourist attractions in Qatar such as Katara, Lusail and Pearl Island.
“They have beautiful new places to visit besides the heritage areas, we had the best time of our life,” Ms Kirawi said.
Dr Khayat, not satisfied with seven matches so far, decided to return to Doha after buying tickets for last night's Argentina v Netherlands match and England v France.
“I couldn’t resist it," he said. "I will travel again by car but with my friends to attend the semi-finals."