IMAGINE a World Cup that took place in the distance between Selhurst Park and Kenilworth Road.
That is exactly what will happen when the 2022 World Cup kicks off in Qatar on November 21 next year.
Eight stadiums all within the space of 41 miles, the distance between Crystal Palace and Luton’s football grounds.
One hour along the four-lane motorways from the Bedouin Tent design of Al Bayt in the north to the 40,000-capacity Al Janoub in the south.
Seven of the eight grounds are accessible in 50 minutes or so by Doha’s new £26billion Metro system.
All in a city that has grown from nothing to a teeming metropolis in barely two decades, funded by the world’s third-largest natural gas field and ensuring the most compact World Cup ever.
Many England fans, who are contemplating a journey to the Gulf to cheer on Gareth Southgate’s players, will have deep scepticism over why the world’s most eagerly anticipated sports event is taking place in a country half the size of Wales.
That will never go away. Nor will the questions over what has happened since that vote by the 22 members of Fifa’s executive committee in December 2010.
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After all, even disgraced Sepp Blatter conceded the vote had begun the downfall of his Fifa empire.
But the simple fact is that the World Cup WILL be played in Qatar. And it will be unlike any World Cup before.
The money spent on the stadiums and infrastructure is eye-popping, with estimates of up to £140BILLION.
Ask the Qataris and they do not want to give a figure.
But do not dismiss the numbers offered. Yet that money has helped to build seven brand-new footballing monuments in the sands surrounding the capital Doha.
All but one of which will live on after Fifa’s roadshow has packed up and started on the trail to the USA, Mexico and Canada in 2026.
The centrepiece and most glittering of them is the Lusail Stadium, which will host ten matches including the final on December 18.
An 80,000-capacity venue, rising from the desert, with a design based on intricate traditional fanar lantern or cooking bowl.
It will be a place for the cultures of the world to mix, too, although fans may need to get used to the beat of the Za’im — or “leader” — drum, which could become the sound of the 2022 finals, just like the vuvuzela at South Africa in 2010.
Qatar does not have a rich footballing history, even if it has a history of making rich footballers happy.
But the national side are the reigning Asian champions, having beaten Japan in the 2019 final.
That victory saw cars bedecked with the maroon and white of the national flag, horns blaring a cacophony of joy, taking to the streets of Doha.
And last month’s Amir Cup final between Al Rayyan and Al Sadd, and featuring a host of faces familiar to Prem fans like Santi Cazorla and James Rodriguez, was a window into the World Cup atmosphere.
The traditional white robes were there in abundance but even though nobody had touched a drop of booze, there was no lack of tribal atmosphere as rival fans taunted each other and cheered on their heroes.
Orchestrated chants, banners, that drumbeat — and the excitement of around 2,000 Ghanaian migrant workers who had turned up just to back former West Ham striker Andre Ayew — gave a sense of the flavour of next winter’s global showpiece.
Former Holland ace Ronald De Boer, who ended his career in Qatar, said: “When the national team is playing you see the craziness take over the country and the ground is full every match.
“Here the World Cup will be the country. It will be everywhere you go, all around you, all the time, like an Olympic Games for football only. People will get that.”
They will also get the ambition and scale of the World Cup project, as they squeeze between the skyscrapers that have sprouted up in what was, until so recently, a tiny country whose economy was based on fishing and pearl-diving.
Tamim El Abed, a Liverpool fan from a Palestinian family who is project manager of the Lusail build, resembled a proud father talking about his new child as he explained the details of the showpiece stadium, based on a Norman Foster design.
He told SunSport: “Here it is just six metres from the front row of seats to the touchline. We have built the stadiums so that the fans are on top of the pitch, as close as we could make it.
“The stadiums will all be air conditioned with under-floor diffusers for the lower-tier seats. At pitch level and in the upper tier we have large nozzles to throw out high- velocity cold air.
“One other thing is that every pitch, in the stadium and the training grounds, will be exactly the same.
“It took us seven years of research and development to find the right blend of winter and summer seed to make sure we deliver the perfect surface for the climatic conditions.
“I’ve grown up here in Qatar and the country has pulled off some major feats but we needed to show that a small place could have such big ambitions, so we could show ourselves to the world.
“This will give the chance for the rest of the world to get to know and understand our country.
“We believe we have been misunderstood but football has the power to change that.”
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