Qatar offers a rare World Cup perk — a chance to watch two elite matches in one day

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With all eight stadiums located within a 35-mile radius of Doha city, the 2022 World Cup is the most compact in history. During the group stage, this makes it possible to participate in four games in one day.

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Possible, but not allowed.

To avoid overcrowding and to make more tickets available to more people, FIFA limited fans and media to two games a day, with four hours between kickoffs. But it’s still good enough, isn’t it? Watching four of the best teams in the world on the same day?

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(Ariel Shalit/Associated Press)

And with public transport, free for World Cup spectators, serving all eight stadiums, it will be easier, the Qataris said.

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But then the Qataris had already banned human rights and everything from beer sales to bus schedules and menus in media cafeterias. So maybe it was just another empty promise.

I decided to find out. Armed with nothing more than media credentials and any semblance of familiarity with Qatar’s metro system, I headed out on Wednesday at 4pm to see Germany play Japan at Khalifa International Stadium, followed by Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium Canada-Belgium was less than 12 miles away. at 10 pm

I can see Khalifa from my apartment in Doha’s Al Rayyan neighborhood, so it was a logical place to start. I left late in the afternoon and the leisurely stroll through the stadium felt like something I’ve felt since the start of the World Cup, mainly because the tournament has produced little in the way of buzz and excitement outside the stadium or the Corniche In Fanfest, Doha’s promenade along the winding bay.

During my 30-minute walk, I passed only one person wearing a German national team shirt. I didn’t see any flags, no face paint and nothing like a march for the match. The stadium parking lot was empty three hours before kickoff.

Japan players celebrate after defeating Germany at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar
Japan’s players celebrate after defeating Germany 2-1 at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday.
(Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press)

But the match, which ended in a 2–1 victory for Japan, qualified for the World Cup. Germany took an early lead on a penalty kick from Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, one that Japanese keeper Shuichi Gonda conceded. Gonda then put in a stellar performance though as he made eight saves, allowing Japan to concede two goals late in the second half.

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The first came from Ritsu Doon, who scored on the rebound, and eight minutes later Takuma Asano put Japan ahead to stay, following on a long free kick from Ko. Itakura fighting with defender Niko Schlotterbeck then dropped it into the roof of the net from a difficult angle past German keeper Manuel Neuer on the end line.

It was Germany’s third defeat in four World Cup matches since winning the title in Brazil eight years ago.

“It’s a big disappointment for us,” said German manager Hansi Flick. “With no points today, we are under pressure now.”

Japan’s coach, Hajime Moriyasu, who entered and exited the media room amid applause from Japanese reporters, said he hoped the win would show “how Japanese players are becoming and getting better.”

There were media buses outside the stadium that, with a slight detour, would get me to the Canada-Belgium match faster than the subway. But because I’m a people man, I headed to the train station, guided by dozens of volunteers using foam “We Are No. 1” fingers to point the way to the station.

Doha’s metro is just 3½ years old and covers a little over 47 miles. It has three lines and 37 stations that are served by trains traveling at speeds up to 60 mph, making them one of the world’s fastest driverless trains. Stations are massive and sparkling clean, although Wednesday’s crush of World Cup fans left trains more congested than a Tokyo subway car at rush hour.

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My journey took me from Sports City, the last stop on the Gold Line, to Mashreb, where I transferred to the Green Line leading to the Mall of Qatar.

World Cup fans stand in a packed subway train in Qatar on Wednesday.
World Cup fans stand in a packed subway train in Qatar on Wednesday.
(Kevin Baxter /)

Qataris love shopping malls and the three-story Mall of Qatar, which is next to the stadium, is their crown jewel, with 520 stores spread over 5.4 million square feet, which is enough space for 93 regulation-size football fields. The Villagio Mall near my apartment is only a fraction of that size, but it has a skating rink, a theme park, and a roof painted to look like the sky above a river with gondola boats.

The trip from stadium to stadium took 42 minutes and a 30-minute walk from the mall to the media entrance, allowing me to get to my seat about an hour before kickoff.

Canada was playing in the World Cup for the first time in 36 years and showed some nervousness in the opening game, searching for the right pass rather than settling for a good pass. Still, he had a chance to take the lead on a penalty kick in the 10th minutes, but Alphonso Davies’ effort was weak and was fouled by Belgian keeper Thibault Courtois, becoming the first Belgian goalkeeper to stop a penalty kick at the World Cup since 1966.

Michy Batshuayi’s 44 made Davis’ mistake all the more painfulth Belgium would need the only goal for a 1–0 victory. Canada has played four World Cup games in its history and is still looking for its first point and first goal.

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Steven Vitoria of Canada fights for the ball with Michy Batshuayi of Belgium
Steven Vitoria of Canada fights for the ball with Michy Batshuayi of Belgium during their World Cup match at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Wednesday.
(Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

After the game I made my way to an offensive practice called “mixed field,” which is common in international soccer matches and the Olympic Games. The way it works is reporters are locked in a large room and forced to stand behind three-foot-high barriers like cows on their way to slaughter. To get from their dressing rooms to the team bus, players must walk through rooms, but they are on the other side of the barriers. This is the only game-day availability the players have to members of the media, who are free to stop by and answer questions.

Or not.

Most players don’t stop. To dissuade anyone who asked Gareth Bale questions after last Monday’s draw with the United States, the Welsh captain was led through the mixed area by some hired muscle as a powerful security guard.

The Canadians, as you can probably guess, were much more cooperative.

“The biggest stage in the world,” said defender Steven Vitoria, one of several Canadians interviewed. We have not come here to play well and lose. We want to play well and win. But we are on the right track. There is a lot to be proud of.”

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The subway ride back seemed quicker and I was more than pleasant walking back to my apartment on a cold desert morning under the scorching sun. When I put the key in the door, it was just after 2:30. It was a 14-hour day during which I saw four teams, two stadiums, two penalty kicks, four goals and took a few train rides. It was as easy as the Qataris had promised.

I think he was telling the truth this time.


Source: www.latimes.com

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