By Mukesh Sharma
Doha, Nov 19 (IANS): Football, fans and flags. These three words embody Qatar as a large number of international fans, expatriates and Qataris soak in the festive spirit of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 just more than 24 hours ahead of the grand event that begins on Sunday.
Groups of men and women carrying flags and in colourful jerseys could be seen around fan zones and places hosting festivities on Friday, the last weekend ahead of the tournament. The cyan and white jerseys of Argentina and the yellow and green of the Brazil squad have been the dominating colours as football revellers celebrate on Doha streets.
"We are lucky to be living in Qatar during the FIFA World Cup as so many fans from all over the world have converged here for the tournament," said Mohammed Shahid, an Indian from Kerala who was dressed in a Brazil national team jersey at the Lusail Boulevard, which has been done up with flags and lights for the World Cup.
Enquiries at supermarkets and other stores selling flags and jerseys revealed that the offtake for Brazil jerseys and flags has been the highest. Amna Siddiqui, a girl from the Indian state of Karnataka, was found pleading with her father at a supermarket in Al Wakra to buy her the Brazilian standard.
"I have finally decided to yield to her badgering," said her amused father as the 10-year-old Brazil fan emerged victorious from the shop located some 15 km from Doha.
The convivial spirit of the World Cup seems to have outshone a slew of allegations by international news outlets, especially those belonging to Western nations. A number of articles in international media have pointed the finger at Qatar, alleging human rights violations and abuse of workers' rights as the country built eight advanced stadiums for the World Cup. Qatar denies the allegations and has pushed back against criticism.
The sale of alcoholic drinks at the World Cup has been hotly discussed in Western newspapers, with some criticising the price of beer to be sold as exorbitant. Until a few weeks before the tournament, it was still seemingly unclear if alcohol will be sold at match venues and fan zones in the conservative Muslim country where the sale of liquor is strictly regulated.
FIFA ended the speculation on Friday when it announced a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages near the eight stadiums where World Cup matches will be played in Qatar.
In a statement on its website, the world football body said: "Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar's FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters."
The announcement implies that alcohol will be sold at FIFA Fan Festivals, which will be held in designated places in the country where thousands of fans will congregate to watch matches on giant screens.
"…FIFA will continue to ensure that the stadiums and surrounding areas provide an enjoyable, respectful and pleasant experience for all fans," the world football body's statement added.
Opening match referee named
Italy's Daniele Orsato has been selected as the referee for the opening match to be played between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday. The 46-year-old is one of Europe's most experienced referees, having been a game official since 2010. He was a video assistant referee at the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Ghana and Costa Rica teams arrive
The Ghana national team arrived in Doha Friday to participate in the World Cup. The African side is part of Group H alongside Portugal, Uruguay, and South Korea. Ghana will start its World Cup campaign by facing Portugal before it faces South Korea on November 28, ahead of concluding the group stage by facing Uruguay on December 2.
The Costa Rica team, which is part of Group E, also arrived in Doha Friday. Other teams in the group are Spain, Germany, and Japan. Costa Rica will begin their matches by facing Spain at Al Thumama Stadium on November 23, before facing Japan at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium on November 27, and concluding the group stage by facing Germany at Al Bayt Stadium on December 1.