Tuesday 26 January 2016, 11:28

Fans gain glimpse of the future in Qatar

Given the chance to catch a glimpse of the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ six years in advance, most football fans would eagerly accept. And that was exactly the opportunity offered to 12 lucky individuals from across the globe, who recently enjoyed a fascinating trip to host nation Qatar.

Taking advantage of the visit of some major European teams engaging in training camps, the trip was organised by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (www.sc.qa) together with Qatar Tourism Authority invited fans from France, Germany, Italy, China and India, among other countries, to discover Qatar and experience first-hand the football fervour gripping the country that will host the World Cup in 2022.

Italian Luca Cipriani, an Inter Milan supporter, was one of the fortunate few given the opportunity to encounter the culture and traditions of Qatar. During the three-day trip, he took in Inter’s friendly match with Paris Saint-Germain in Doha, and was able to attend one of his team’s training sessions.

Together with the rest of the group, he was able to pay a visit to the Gulf state’s iconic sites, such as Katara, West Bay, the Pearl, the Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif, and even managed a stroll on the sand dunes in the southern part of Mesaieed. But the aspect that most impressed the Italian, who lives in London, was the progress already made on the World Cup venues.

“I think that they’ll be totally ready two years before the tournament. They still have work to do, but in three or four years, it’s all going to be very impressive,” he said after visiting the control centre monitoring the construction of stadiums across the country, a modern room featuring cutting-edge technology that ensures a live connection with each of the sites.

The majority of the visitors, reaping the rewards of years of loyalty to their teams, were chosen in consultation with the clubs and media outlets in their respective countries, in an attempt to find a selection of “superfans”.

Backing Bayern German Michael Zeman is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The Bayern Munich fanatic was considerably moved by the warm welcome he received from locals. In return, he left a lasting impression on many of the Qataris he met, and not just because he attracted attention wherever he went due to his attire, which left people in no doubt as to which club he supported.

Having started out the trip asking his football idols for a photo during the training session he got to attend, he ended up becoming the centre of attraction himself.

“I don’t know how many photo requests I’ve had – hundreds, maybe,” Zeman said in a surprised tone. “It’s really nice when kids come up to you with such wide eyes. And I’m just a normal guy!”

In fact, the lucky group contained another Bayern follower, but this one hailed from a little further afield than the majority of the club faithful. Yi Zhang was studying German in his native China when he watched the Munich giants come unstuck at the hands of Manchester United in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final, and was so taken by the losers’ efforts that he became a fan for life.

He was also impressed by what he saw in Doha: “There are still six years to go until the World Cup, but Chinese fans should definitely try to come here and witness what I've seen over the past three days.”

Ahmed Aljenae and Mohammad Shaaban, who had travelled from Kuwait, were equally positive. “We’ll be back in 2022 because it will be another fantastic chance to see the big stars up close again,” they said.