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Saudi Commuters Descend on Doha for an In-and-Out World Cup


DOHA, Qatar — Planes were landing, from all around the globe, every jiffy. They got here from London and Tokyo, Hong Kong and São Paulo. There could be about 300 scheduled passenger flights landing at Hamad International Airport on Saturday.

But amongst them were dozens of planes that had not come far, sometimes just a number of hundred miles from the west and after barely reaching cruising altitude. They got here from Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s next-door neighbor, and so they carried excited people in green jerseys and with no bags to examine.

These World Cup commuters wouldn’t stay long. Kickoff was at 4 p.m. They’d get up back home on Sunday, a piece day, in their very own beds.

They were soccer fans, and so they carried only what they needed: banners, flags and a passport. They usually brought a renewed sense of collective expectation as they arrived to cheer Saudi Arabia, the unlikely darling of the tournament, if not the whole Middle East.

Beating Argentina will try this. Every game, now, is greater than the last. After losing to Poland, 2-0, the following, against Mexico on Wednesday, will resolve if Saudi Arabia reaches the round of 16. That hope will generate one other day like this one.

By midmorning, the airport in Doha was spilling out bursts of green. Amongst them were the brothers Faris and Salman al-Hassan, fresh off a brief flight from Riyadh and wearing green jerseys and scarves.

They might have come by automobile, they said — Doha is about six hours from Riyadh — but Qatar, nervous about automobile traffic, disincentivized that concept for the World Cup. It created a short lived toll of 5,000 Saudi riyal (about $1,330) for those driving across the border through the tournament.

An alternate was to park on the border and hop on a bus on the Abu Samra, Qatar, checkpoint, as 1000’s of others had done over the past week. The no-frills bus ride is little greater than an hour, however the bus is just not the hard part: Abu Samra is hours from any major Saudi city.

So the alternative was made by 1000’s: Commute by air.

Get in. Cheer. Get out.

“We’ll go straight to the stadium and are available right back,” Salman al-Hassan said.

About 20 flights arrived in Doha from Saudi Arabian cities between dawn and 1 p.m. on Saturday, timed only for the afternoon kickoff.

A Temporary Guide to the 2022 World Cup

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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits the most effective national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:

Where is it being held? This yr’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the USA and Japan to win the appropriate to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.

When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games will probably be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.

Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup normally takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar might need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.

What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified routinely because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the appropriate to come back and play. Meet the teams here.

How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.

How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament will probably be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You’ll be able to livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s find out how to watch every match.

When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Recent York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Which means there will probably be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the USA for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.

Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.

At 11:15 a.m., here got here an Airbus 320 from Riyadh. One other big Airbus departed nearby Dammam, made a delicate parabola within the sky and touched down in Doha at 11:30 a.m. In its slipstream was a flight from Medina, then one other from Riyadh, then one from Damman, then one from Jeddah, across the Arabian Peninsula along the Red Sea.

That was within the space of an hour. Each flight, each giant jet, disgorged bright-eyed revelers after which went back to fetch more.

Into Qatar the fans got here, through customs and past baggage claim — not a essential stop for many — and into the hushed hall of the gleaming terminal. Some stopped at booths for a SIM card or some Qatari money. Some found a counter to stash their bag for the day, wishing that they had packed lighter.

Most, it turned out, had never been to Doha. It’s an emerging global capital greater than a regional destination.

This might be a fast fling, a one-day takeover. From the terminal the Saudis caught the metro, got off on the Msheireb station in the town center, walked around and ate, after which got back on the metro — the green line, fittingly — for an eight-stop ride to Education City Stadium.

There, Poland awaited, very much the visiting team.

Poland took the lead after 39 minutes when Piotr Zielinski turned in a cross from the star striker Robert Lewandowski. However the Saudis had arrived brimming with confidence and, backed by the raucous crowd, quickly went in the hunt for an equalizer.


Nov. 26, 2022, 5:07 p.m. ET

Salem al-Dawsari had a likelihood for one just before halftime, but his penalty kick was brushed aside by Poland’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The rebound fell to a teammate, but his sharp shot was saved, too. The green-clad fans within the stands groaned, and groaned again when Lewandowski’s goal within the 82nd minute sealed Saudi Arabia’s defeat.

Regardless of the result, all of this had come as a surprise. Saudi Arabia’s soccer team had arrived in Qatar as a classic underdog, its roster drawn mostly from domestic leagues. It began the tournament with the longest odds in the sphere, 1,000-to-1, and permission from at least the dominion’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, not to fret an excessive amount of about wins or losses.

But down by 1-0 to Lionel Messi and Argentina on Tuesday, Saudi striker Saleh al-Shehri became an easy national hero. Free on a breakaway, he sent a sliding left-footer into Argentina’s goal. Al-Dawsari followed a number of minutes later with a thunderbolt into the upper-right corner.

The Saudis led and held to win. It was such an unlikely final result that Wednesday was declared a national holiday. That gave fans more time, presumably, to stage their in-and-out pilgrimages on Saturday and what will probably be at the least another.

Early on Saturday morning, before 8 a.m., a family awoke of their homes in Riyadh and got out the door for the airport. That group, the Abdulilah family — two aunts, their nieces and nephews and a cousin — had bought tickets months ago, for 600 riyal ($160 per person).

They considered driving to Doha — all but one had never been — but the price and the uncertainty about traffic and parking deterred them.

When more flights were added to the schedule a number of weeks ago, they bought plane tickets for 999 riyal, or $266. A number of the women within the group admitted that they weren’t enormous soccer fans. One, who preferred to offer her name only as Halah, had not heard of the now-famous players until the last match.

Her cousin, Luluh, said the match could be her first sporting event — a prospect that got infinitely more exciting with the victory over Argentina.

“I used to be watching with my son, and he was terrified due to my screaming,” she said.

Most Saudi fans arrived to the airport as they presented themselves on the stadium: decorated in green and sometimes holding a flag that might be worn as a cape. You may tell those who had flown in only for the day, at the least from Riyadh, because that they had been handed free green scarves on the airport before departing.

Even those in traditional Saudi dress — a white full-length thobe for men, and a gown-like abaya for girls — accentuated themselves with green or selected green-tinted abaya.

On the stadium, though, entire rows of men sat in crisp white thobes amongst throngs of fans wearing green team jerseys — a loud sea of green and white speckled with Polish red. Each time al-Shehri or al-Dawsari touched the ball with a gap toward the goal, the fans lifted of their seats in anticipation.

The sudden tournament success of the Saudis has rallied the region, perhaps in unexpected ways. The Saudis led a Gulf-region blockade of Qatar in 2017, only ending it in 2021, and there may be some natural anxiety as Saudis watch tiny Qatar raise its profile.

But that is the primary World Cup held within the Middle East, and on the opening ceremony, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar sat with the Saudi leader, Prince Mohammed.

“Brothers,” a thobe-wearing man named Mohammed said on the airport, describing the connection between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, even with the blockade. “Same people, different country.”

Now they were connected by an airborne parade. Experts have chimed in on the carbon footprint of this World Cup — scientists are usually not impressed by the host’s claims of neutrality — but travel accounts for about half of it, one report found. And air traffic coming out and in of Doha is an enormous a part of that.

Those concerns is not going to slow the flow from the west. And when the match ended, just past sundown, the day reversed itself.

The stadium emptied. The metro’s green line stuffed with Saudi fans. Hundreds of soccer commuters crowded the airport again.

They divided themselves onto planes that brought them home in the identical short arcs — to Riyadh, to Dammam, to Medina, to Jeddah. They returned to the beds that that they had left within the morning. An tour greater than a visit, but one with a sense that may last.

“You never get the possibility to have the World Cup round the corner,” Mohammed said. “You may almost walk there.”

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