With the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 so close yet so far for many of us, the UAE is an ideal location to experience the action outside the host country.
For the past week, an array of Dubai venues have been created or transformed in order to conjure up the mass excitement and camaraderie associated with being in a football stadium.
This is not really a surprise, because the UAE events sector is arguably the Maradona of its international peers.
For years, savvy operators have capitalised on global sporting events, from the NFL Super Bowl to Spain’s El Clasico matches, to create immersive viewing parties in a league of their own.
Such consistent form convinced four of my cousins to fly to the UAE from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Australia to watch the opening week’s matches in venues big and small.
We watched 10 matches in three days, in places ranging from the palatial to the intimate.
These three venues, in particular, offer a memorable experience.
For the mass vibes: BudX Fifa Fan Festival Dubai at Dubai Harbour
A fan zone officially associated with World Cup organisers Fifa, this is as close as we will get in the UAE to being in the stadium in terms of atmosphere.
Located on previously deserted gravel land in Dubai Harbour, the space resembles an oceanside music festival with several stages, food trucks, picnic areas and various pavilions.
The main stage at the centre is home to a large 330-square-metre screen with the kind of surround sound fit for an Imax theatre.
From the soft thud of the ball being kicked to the thunderous drumming of the Japanese fans during Wednesday's stunning match against Germany, the sound is clear and powerful.
Various kinds of comfortable seating is on offer, from large bean bags free with general admission tickets (recommended if you want to interact with other football fans) to the elevated and more private booths and couches that come with food and beverage packages.
As the tournament heats up expect the fan zone to increase its programming to include musical performances and appearances by football greats.
Such dynamic offerings make the BudX Fifa Fan Zone top of the league when it comes to a mass viewing experience.
Running until December 18; until 3am; from Dh79; Dubai Harbour; dubai.platinumlist.net
For elegance: The Arena at Palazzo Versace, Dubai
Qatar World Cup meets Dubai Bling in this lavish viewing venue.
Located in an exclusive Dubai creek-side space normally reserved for gala ceremonies and weddings, The Arena resembles a luxurious garden party with football and theatre performances thrown into the mix.
In a break between matches on screen, a series of performers ― from jazz singers to football jugglers ― feature on various stages across the site.
A special a la carte menu is served featuring refined takes of much-loved sports-viewing staples such as hotdogs and chicken wings.
Seating options range from a table of four to couches accommodating six to 10 people.
If you are serious about the game and want fewer distractions, a number of luxurious black leather recliner chairs are on offer near the screen.
Running until December 18. From 2pm until the end of the evening's final match. Entry begins from Dh180 minimum spend during the opening group stages; www.palazzoversace.ae
For the passion: Loca at Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Spa
The UAE’s many ethnically themed restaurants can also provide a stirring football watching experience.
Popular Mexican food spot Loca is an ideal place for watching matches featuring South American and Latin American teams.
Staff get into the spirit with members wearing dark football jerseys with names emblazoned on the back.
Loca was awash with supporters when attending the Mexico versus Poland match on Tuesday.
In addition to raucous chants, laughs and incessant groans from what was a close encounter, extra vibrancy was provided by a special World Cup menu of colourful favourites, including aromatic fajitas, hearty nachos and vegan-friendly quesadillas.
Loca at Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa. Monday to Sunday from 12pm to 2am; www.locauae.com