Qatar making a big noise on and off the pitch as 2022 World Cup hosts put on free clash with Ecuador

IT IS 6pm and still a stifling 31 degrees in the desert evening gloom.

Thousands are queuing at the turnstiles to see 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar face Ecuador.

 Qataris see their team beat Ecuador beat 4-3 in a friendly at the Al Saad stadium as the countdown to the next World Cup approaches

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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Qataris see their team beat Ecuador beat 4-3 in a friendly at the Al Saad stadium as the countdown to the next World Cup approaches

It helps it is free to get in. Albert Tete, a Ghanaian construction worker at one of Qatar’s rising new World Cup stadiums, would not be here if not.

A labourer at the Al Rayyan Stadium, he says he earns £177 a month — with free food and accommodation — working 12-hour days, six days a week.

The Chelsea fan, 27, says of his salary: “Half a loaf is better than no loaf.”

The dad-of-one, who says he is “proud” to be aiding the World Cup effort, joined a cosmopolitan throng at Friday’s friendly.

 Sun man Oliver Hardy keeps a check on the heat, finding even at night it is 28 degrees near the back and 26 pitchside

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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Sun man Oliver Hardy keeps a check on the heat, finding even at night it is 28 degrees near the back and 26 pitchside
 Qatar fans get a taste of what the World Cup will be like in the Middle East

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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Qatar fans get a taste of what the World Cup will be like in the Middle East

Qatari men in white, ankle-length thawb shirts, veiled local women, thousands of casually-dressed migrant workers from the subcontinent and Europeans in shorts and flip flops.

Before entering the stadium, hundreds of fans kneel on red carpets in front of the stands and prostrate themselves in prayer towards Mecca.

Next month tiny Qatar, a nation smaller than Yorkshire, celebrates the four-year countdown to the first World Cup in the Middle East.

As the Earth’s richest nation, Qatar has the petrodollars to ensure its infrastructure is in place, despite a blockade by Arab neighbours.

 Three was a cosmopolitan mix in the stands but not quite a capacity crowd

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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Three was a cosmopolitan mix in the stands but not quite a capacity crowd

In 2017, states including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut off Qatar by land and air over its alleged support for terrorism and Iran.

Yet seven gleaming new stadiums are rising out of the sand. Another, the Khalifa International Stadium, now has “advanced cooling technology” to beat the desert heat.

A metro, with stations made to resemble Bedouin tents, is scheduled to be completed in two years and there are plans for floating hotels in the warm Gulf waters and fan camps in the desert.

But what of the match day experience in a nation where drinking in public is banned?

 Fans faced stifling temperatures but Qatar authorities are promising new stadiums

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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Fans faced stifling temperatures but Qatar authorities are promising new stadiums

A land subject to Sharia Law, where the Foreign Office warns public intimacy between men and women can lead to arrest and homosexuality is illegal.

As hosts, Qatar may be qualified for their first World Cup but they are hardly Goliaths of international football.

The Maroons are 94th in Fifa’s rankings, behind the Faroe Islands, Iraq and Luxembourg.

And despite free tickets, the Ecuador game is not a sell-out. The official attendance is 11,480 in the 12,946-seat arena in Doha.

 A young Qatar fan waves the national flag in a 4-3 friendly win over Ecuador

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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A young Qatar fan waves the national flag in a 4-3 friendly win over Ecuador

Inside the ground, thousands wave Qatari flags as the teams emerge. Vendors sell Coca Cola, Doritos and Kit Kats to the faithful. There is a party atmosphere with visitors made to feel welcome.

In headdress and flowing thawb, bus driver and Arsenal fan Omar Saleem, 27, said of the World Cup: “Fans will be able to drink alcohol at the big hotels and gay fans will be able to visit without any problems.

“Women visitors will not have to wear a headscarf. Everyone is welcome to Qatar.”

 These Ghanaian construction workers are helping to build the new venues

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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These Ghanaian construction workers are helping to build the new venues

There is some respite from the heat, with nozzles pumping out cold air from under the seats.

That creates a microclimate in the stadium. With cold air being denser than hot air, it pushes the hot air out of the gap in the roof.

With a hand-held thermometer I measured the temperature at 28 degrees towards the back of the stand and 26 at pitchside. I still find the muggy desert heat energy-sapping and dehydrating.

However, this Jassim bin Hamad Stadium is not a World Cup venue, with organisers promising new stadiums will have more efficient AC systems.

 Fans at the Al Saad stadium in Dohar as Qatsr led 4-0 but scraped home 4-3

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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Fans at the Al Saad stadium in Dohar as Qatsr led 4-0 but scraped home 4-3

The daytime temperature on Friday was 37 degrees. The 2022 tournament is set for November 21 to December 18, when temperatures are cooler.

Wearing an ‘I Love Qatar’ T-shirt, accountant Divakar Poojary, in his fifties, originally from Bangalore, India, said: “English players might find the weather a little difficult but they are professionals, so should be able to adapt.”

 Limousine driver Jahed Mohammed, 23, right. originally from Bangladesh is part of a group holding a banner saying: Welcome in Qatar

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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Limousine driver Jahed Mohammed, 23, right. originally from Bangladesh is part of a group holding a banner saying: Welcome in Qatar

And what of the army of migrant workers like Albert doing the hard graft on World Cup infrastructure, some of whom human rights groups say have been cruelly exploited?

Amnesty International claimed last month a contractor involved in building the marquee Lusail Stadium did not pay some workers, leaving them stranded thousands of miles from home.

Gareth Southgate says England draw with Croatia feels like a game ‘we should have won’

But Doha is keen to show it is tackling worker abuse and has introduced a minimum wage. Divakar added: “The authorities are doing their utmost to improve conditions.”

Confidence is high that the tournament will run smoothly.

Manchester City fan Shamsudheen Thekkekollarakka, 29, originally from India, said: “Qatar might be small but it’s infrastructure is better than countries with more space.

“It’s a secure and well-organised place. It will hold a great World Cup.”

 Lawyer and Liverpool fan Abdul Hamid, 34 with his wife Nani, 26, centre, and family

Ian Whittaker – The Sun
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Lawyer and Liverpool fan Abdul Hamid, 34 with his wife Nani, 26, centre, and family

 

In the stands men, women and children sit together, with no bad language and no baiting of the Ecuadorian fans.
When Qatar opened the scoring through Akram Afif the crowd erupted.

Clouds of post-it note sized white paper squares were tossed in the air, the Qatar version of Argentina’s 1978 ticker-tape displays.

Qatar score three more but, despite home advantage, it is they who wilt in the heat.

Ecuador pull three back but the Maroons hold on 4-3.

However Qatar’s team performs in 2022, it looks like they will stage a World Cup like no other before.

IT IS 6pm and still a stifling 31 degrees in the desert evening gloom.