No one will be able to tell you the last time there was a 32-team World Cup where all the stadiums were within an hour of each other. It’s unique. But what’s irresistible about it is 32 nations’ worth of fans flocking to the football hotspots around Doha to party.
Mainly one spot in particular, the Souq Waqif – the ancient marketplace that bustles with restaurants, cafes, stalls and, over the past three weeks, fans. From everywhere. At night drum beats, chanting and singing provide a soundtrack to the evening, the air thick with shisha smoke and the aroma of Middle Eastern food.
The fans of the West Asian and North African teams pour into the Souq’s main corridor, then flow back out like an undulating tide, their partying a sight to behold. Flags of not just the competing teams, but nations throughout the region ripple through the night sky as the volume reaches fever pitch.
These swarms of delirious supporters have swelled and receded on the fortunes of their beloved teams: Saudi Arabia’s famous win over Argentina; the night before Tunisia’s match against Australia; Iran’s stirring win over Wales; Morocco’s penalty shootout win over Spain.
There was nowhere else to be after Achraf Hakimi’s penalty eliminated the 2010 Champion, but the Souq. And it wasn’t just a win for Walid Regragui’s men, but the entire region. As cars flew up and down Doha’s main avenues, Moroccan supporters and flags pouring out the open windows, one sensed a most famous upset win was just the shot in the arm the latter stages of this tournament needed.
A local team to keep the hope alive among a region of fans who have lit up the 2022 FIFA World Cup with their love of the game. Beyond Morocco’s run to the quarter-finals, this edition of the tournament has delivered in many aspects.
An astonishing effort by the Socceroos to advance to the knockout rounds for the first time in 16 years? Check. Messi and Ronaldo still alive in the hunt to add that ‘white whale’ piece of silverware to their sparkling resumes? Check. Brazil firing on all cylinders? It took a couple of games, but check. Upsets? Got those too. The emergence of new stars to watch? Step forward Cody Gakpo, Gonçalo Ramos, Jamal Musiala and Jude Bellingham.
For all the negativity surrounding the temperature in Qatar and the November placement of the tournament, picture perfect 25-30 degree days have greeted the players, with most matches played in the evenings. State of the art air conditioning systems keep the pitch level cool and the results have been evident in the quality of the matches.
In many ways, Qatar is the conduit through which an entire region is sharing in its love for football at this most uniquely Middle Eastern World Cup. There is no place where this is more evident than down at the old town market place on the night of a match, especially when it’s Morocco and they’ve just knocked out Spain.