Enthusiasm for World Cup 2022 rises as Qatar welcomes football stars and fans | News about the World Cup 2022 in Qatar

Doha, Qatar – The moment Qatar has been waiting for since 2010 is here: the 2022 FIFA World Cup is about to kick off.

But ahead of Sunday’s opening game, the excitement is palpable across the golfing nation.

Fans dance in the streets, replica football shirts sell like sugar-sweet karak (milk tea), miniature flag taffs adorn corner shops, front yards, schools and skyscrapers are hung with giant posters of football heroes.

“I see more and more new faces on the street every day,” Bernard Wanjiku, a shopkeeper from Kenya, told Al Jazeera at his Africa-facing branch in the old, bustling Mansoura district.

From African clothing and accessories to beauty products, Butterfly Beauty Shop claims to have it all. In keeping with the occasion, the shop has undergone a small transformation. Wanjiku is now selling football flags, stickers, badges, wigs and jerseys and looks happy with the business progress.

“When I started selling flags, Argentina, Brazil and Qatar were the most popular countries,” he exclaims over the World Cup anthems blaring from his radio.

“Now suddenly there is a demand for African flags and jerseys. The most popular are Ghana, Senegal and Morocco. In fact, I’ve almost run out of Ghana flags,” he adds, holding up one of the Black Stars’ last remaining flags.

Mansoura is home to low- to middle-income communities from Africa, South Asia and the Philippines. The area has recently changed with the introduction of a subway station, the construction of new shops and residential buildings, and road works.

Due to its central location, Mansoura is only a few metro stops away from several World Cup stadiums. Stadium 974 is the closest, six kilometers away, a 10 minute drive or three stops on the subway.

Taxi drivers stop for a quick one-riyal cup of karak while many of the mainly South Asian youth relax on street corners after a hard day’s work – and make World Cup predictions. It’s a vibrant, multicultural neighborhood.

All the action in downtown Doha

Musheireb, the capital Doha’s oldest neighborhood and home to the country’s first fully lit street, is now a sparkling clean new downtown area.

One-story mud houses, baqaalas (mom and pop shops) and restaurants from the 1970s once stood here. But narrow, traffic-clogged streets are a thing of the past. They have been replaced with a purpose-built tram system and tall buildings housing five-star hotels and high-end restaurants.

The construction and renovation work that began after Qatar won the hosting rights to the World Cup came to an end a few weeks ago. Last-minute repairs and painting work in hotels and museum buildings show that the finishing touches are still in progress.

Fans heading to the new Musheireb Downtown district can expect to see all the football action on big screens, immerse themselves in history with exhibitions and screenings detailing Qatari history, and cheer on the home team at al-Annabi Village, the stunning Experiences and Exhibitions Follow Qatar’s football history or admire the various art and culture exhibitions, including Frida Kahlo Immersive Biography and Forever Valentino, a tribute to the Italian fashion house.

A stroll of less than a kilometer via Musheireb brings you to Souq Waqif, which has long been the central and most popular tourist center in Doha. Now it’s transformed into a 24-hour party zone teeming with fans from all over the world.

Souq Waqif is a popular tourist center in Doha [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The sprawling Al Bidda Park, home of the FIFA Fan Festival, is a 20-minute walk from the Souq, while the Corniche waterfront is less than a kilometer to the west. Barricades and police units around the park, the souq and the corniche are visible from afar as the area has been pedestrianized to facilitate crowd movement during the World Cup.

If you look up from al-Bidda Park at night, you can see a couple of soccer players passing a ball in the sky. Next, the lights flicker and flicker, writing “Welcome to Qatar.” Drone displays, fireworks and light shows are among the dozens of nighttime performances planned to keep fans entertained throughout the tournament.

On the ground, fan parades along the Corniche have become a common sight. Men, women and children of all ages and nationalities gather in large groups to dance, cheer and sing for their favorite teams – with Brazil, Argentina, Morocco, Senegal and England being the most popular so far.

Although these fans have been labeled “fake” or “borrowed” by some international news outlets, it has done little to dampen their spirits. They love football – Messi is an outstanding idol – regardless of their origin.

Wrapped in national flags of all colors, they descend on hubs like Main Boulevard in Lusail City, home of Lusail Stadium, and march in the hundreds to the beating of drums.

Flags of the World Cup participating countries
Flags of the countries participating in the World Cup on Lusail Boulevard on November 4, 2022 in the city of Lusail, Qatar [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Who are you cheering for?

“I’m a Qatarist, but I support Argentina,” says Sara al-Haji, a media student from Qatar. “It’s simple. I love Leo Messi and so does my mother.”

Sarah and her friends from Qatar University set up a booth at the Katara Cultural Village, a hub with art galleries, an amphitheater, restaurants and a beach that’s a 10-minute drive or subway ride from downtown Doha.

Sarah offers Arabic coffee, cookies and a chance to learn more about Qatari and Islamic culture to anyone who stops by.

“We felt the need to change the image of Qatar and Islam in the eyes of the West,” adds Sara’s friend Dalal. Their small facility includes a World Cup-themed activity corner featuring team coloring sheets, stickers, badges and flags for kids.

“Some Argentinian fans stopped by to try our coffee and chat. They made TikTok videos about Qatar and said they will support our team.”

From fashion shows to concerts and theatrical performances to children’s activities and amusement parks, there is an event in every part of the country. Schools and kindergartens have marked the early end of school with their own World Cup parties.

Children dressed in the colors of their favorite teams danced to the soundtrack of the tournament and held up cardboard versions of World Cup trophies.

Excitement is building, celebrations are in full swing and teams are arriving. Opening day is coming – let the games begin.

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