On November 25, I wake up in Qatar ahead of a hectic day of World Cup action, where I will see three matches in three stadiums in one day.
It’s a hot dry Doha morning, my tent heats up quickly, but it’s bearable.
I open the tent flap so that the air can flow and I have a nice view of the Doha skyline across the bay. I pick myself up after a few hours of sleep.
French Montana held an impromptu concert last night, an extra treat for the Moroccans in attendance (since this was before their World Cup magic began.)
I put all my luggage in my two bags and carefully organize everything I have. This could be the last time I see these bags for a while.
Packing essential items in my backpack, snacks, my Hayya card (your lifeline here in Qatar), wallet and a carefully folded Wales, Qatar and US jersey.
I put on my Welsh Bucket Hat like a soldier’s helmet, it’s time for battle. And by struggle, I mean checking out of my tent village, attending three games in one day, and making my flight back to the States at 4 AM.
Should be easy, but of course it won’t be. Yes, the flight is at 4am, at Doha International Airport from mid-November to the end of December there is no such thing as an unusual hour.
My route of the day, if you’ve seen the jerseys I packed, a shirt from Wales, Qatar and the US. Matches of the Day, Wales vs Iran, Qatar vs Senegal and USA vs England.
Quite a day and I’m looking forward to seeing some great football (I know…it’s called football) and hoping for good results.
First Wales vs. Iran.
Wales v Iran
For anyone who knows me, Wales is my heart. I am American, but as we know we are American, we are obsessed with our heritage.
I have no German, Italian or Irish claim. My last name is Pugh as these are my Welsh rights that I claim for my ticket into the Red Wall (the Welsh fan base).
I’ve been following the Welsh Football Association for a number of years and it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions.
From qualifying for Euro 2016, beating Belgium in the 2016 quarter-finals, to having Ireland crush 2018 World Cup dreams. I’m here for everything.
To start the day’s journey, I meet up with some Welsh friends I’ve made over the past week at the Free Zone Fan Village and we take the subway to Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
Easy to know where to go, FOLLOW THE BUCKET HATS or listen to the Welsh campaign anthem sing, Yma o Hyd! Arriving at the stadium I immediately realize that on paper we may be the home team, but the Iranians who showed up for their relatively short flight have flipped the script.
I am amazed at the excitement everywhere, the singing of the Welsh and equally the chanting of the Iranians in Farsi. I stop for a moment to look at an Iranian lady, she is throwing messages about herself.
This is clearly in protest against what is happening at home. Surreal stuff to see that up close.
When I enter the stadium, I take in every moment. It’s a fresh feeling to have the first game of the day. Not as intense as a late-night game, but just as important.
I settle into my seat in the Red Wall wearing my early 1990s Christmas Tree Welsh Throwback shirt. I chat to the fans next to me, explaining my American accent and making other banter.
As for the game, a little more action would have been welcome. Wales held Iran 0-0 for a while and then the floodgates opened after goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey got a little eager and came out of the box for a red card defensive play.
Just when you thought it was going to be 0-0, Iran broke them in the last minute of stoppage time. And then salt on the wound for a second.
The whistle blows, sadness to see Bale and company reluctantly thank the Red Wall. They know deep down that the chance of an early return to Cardiff is very likely.
I take in the last moments of the atmosphere. It’s all memories, win or lose. I also realize that this is my last time at the Red Wall for now (until I return to Cardiff one day). I’m getting myself together… time for game 2!
Qatar vs Senegal
Outside the Ahmad Bin Ali stadium I meet my friend Ben, from Sydney, and we take a taxi to the stadium to watch Qatar play against Senegal.
We hurry to Al Thumama and are just in time for action. I love this stadium, modeled on the traditional gahfiya hat, it’s the perfect venue to watch the host country play.
Crowds of Qatari fans in traditional dress wave their maroon and white flags. The Senegalese are spread over the stadium and as everyone knows they dance the full 90 minutes and more. With my Budweiser Zero I am satisfied as always.
I wear Qatar’s white away shirt with a touch of desert attributes to get in the mood. I’m neutral on the outcome, so I’m just hoping for some good moves.
Senegal is up 1-0 before the break thanks to a goal from Boulaye Dia and you can feel that the Qataris are slowly losing confidence in their team for this tournament. Can they really be the first host country to not progress past the group stage? I think so…
After Senegal double their lead, Qatar finally get their first goal of the tournament by Mohammed Muntari and the fans erupt! Time to wave those maroon and white flags again!
At the end of the game it’s a 3-1 final and Senegal grooving to the beat of the drums as their next match will be their ticket to the knockouts. I express my applause to both Senegal and Qatar and slowly leave the stadium.
England vs USA
And now it’s time to focus on tonight’s main event, England vs USA. Distant cousins across the Atlantic.
The Crown vs. the dashing colonists, if we’re still sentimental about 1776, of course. Been itching to see this location where we are for a while. In the most beautiful of all stadiums in Qatar, the Al Bayt stadium.
I’ve always wanted to stay in a Bedouin tent, why not watch a football match in it? It is the same venue where the opening game of Qatar vs. Ecuador took place.
The Bedouin tents represent Qatari and Arab hospitality and mean much more than meets the eye.
This tent stadium is located all the way north of Doha. Mixed in traffic factors, it can be almost 45 minutes to an hour away. The recommended route is by bus provided by FIFA for the fans. On the bus we are mostly Americans mixed with a few quiet Englishmen.
Under the lights it’s 10pm here at Al Bayt Stadium, everyone knows the whole world is watching. I have never experienced such an intense feeling.
Americans occupy one side of the stadium while the English pack the other side. I’m impressed to see an abundance of talent on the pitch, especially the English. The Three Lions are really just an English Premier League All Star team (not all of them, of course).
It’s an interesting moment when you finally see football players in person instead of on television.
By the time someone reads this, I won’t have to oversell the match as we all know it ended 0-0. It still feels like a win and it’s something to be proud of that the US comes up with a point against England.
Again, as the final whistle blows, I take in the final moments of the 2022 World Cup. Then I make my way to the buses, it’s time to go home.
I leave Doha with a mix of feelings, exhausted, exhausted, satisfied, accomplished, yet I feel there is more to explore and experience.
Despite most of my matches not having many goals or tournament highlights, I have no regrets. Every second of this tournament is part of the experience and regardless of the outcome, it’s all for the memories and the love of the sport.
Thanks, Qatar, for the memories.
Photo credit: IMAGO/Icon Sportswire
Guide to World Cup 2022
Here are some resources to help you make the most of football’s biggest event!
#World #Cup #Diary #Attending #group #stage #matches #day
Doha,Qatar,United States,World Cup 2022,World football news,WSTWC