Off to Qatar part 3: First couple days in Qatar

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It’s almost noon and I have just got up.  We returned from the USA-Wales match at about 2:45am.  Almad bin Ali Stadium is one of the furthest from the center of town where we are staying, and with 40,000+ people trying to Uber or catch the Metro out of the stadium, it just takes forever.  

But I feel rested and ready for our first 2 live games in a day. We will see Denmark-Tunisia at 4pm and France vs Australia at 10pm.  We will have to plan our day accordingly, as the travel is not necessarily difficult, but it is crowded, and takes a little longer than we thought at first.

Doha is a very modern (and quite expensive) city. They built most of the stadiums and a metro system (kinda like the Max or BART), and many buslines. There is also Uber and cabs to get around.  We have also walked a lot (20,000+ steps yesterday).  My travel partners, Tom and James and I, are staying in a 3 star hotel, with 2 single beds and a small bed in the living room. In the area are small shops and restaurants. There are many immigrants from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and several African nations. They have come here for the jobs and opportunity mostly.  The majority of people we have encountered speak English.

The first two days here, we spent a lot of time at the Souq Wahif, a large labyrinth of a market with crafts, jewelry, fabrics, spices, food, animals (mostly birds), and of course, mass produced trinkets from China.  We have run into people from all over the world, both locals and people here from the World Cup – so far I would say the best-represented countries are Argentina, Ecuador, and Mexico.

On to the soccer part!  On our first full day, we were on a quest to find a place to have a beer while watching the opening game. Alcohol is illegal here, in public, but there are bars in the fancier hotels. The first one we went to was charging 420 Qatari Rial (about $125 USD) for the privilege of sitting in their bar. With entry you also received $125 worth of vouchers for drinks, which there was no way I would have come close to spending.  So, we moved on and ended up at a couple of places for food and drink, including the hotel where team USA is staying.  We didn’t see any players, but we did see former US legends Earnie Stewart and Cindy Parlow Cone coming into the hotel.

So now onto the soccer – we were able to watch the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador at this very Americanized bar (burgers and fries and beer).  The host country was sadly out of their league, and the game turned out not to be much of a game.  We were only able to see the last 20 minutes of England-Iran game, and the first half of Holland vs Senegal from the big Fan Fest area.  Lots of goals in the first game, and a very competitive second game.  The Fan Fest area was enormous. One main area with a big screen, with the lights of the city skyscrapers in the background (including one keeping everyone updated of the score of the game).  There were other screens showing the game, and exhibits and activities hosted by the tournament sponsors.

We then headed to the USA-Wales game by Uber, which took about 45 minutes. The atmosphere was great. Many fans dressed up with face paint and flags – very colorful. And the Wales fans all wear these red, green and yellow fishing hats.  The game itself was exciting and competitive, with the US dominating the play in the first half and going up 1-0, and the Welsh coming out strong in the second half, final evening things out with a PK by Gareth Bale (who else?) late in the game.  The refereeing, which as a mental performance coach I try not to put too much stock into, was awful.  But that wasn’t why we didn’t hold on for the win – the US failed to adjust to the Wales team’s strategy of pressing higher up the field in the second half, leading to some nervous moments, and eventually a poor decision by Walker Zimmerman (who had up to that point had a very solid match) to slide tackle Bale in the box.

That brings us back to the 2 hour 45 minute trip back to the hotel, and the sleeping in til almost noon.  In the first post, I had posed the following factors to look for in the World Cup from the sport psychology angle – here they are with my thoughts after the first 4 games.

  • This is the first “winter” world cup (it usually takes place in the summer)
  • The temperatures will be in the 90s for most games
    → It’s actually not been so hot, in fact, once the sun goes down around 6pm the temperature cools down significantly.  I don’t think this has been a factor so far….
  • The majority of pro leagues are in the middle of their season. Typically with a World Cup, the pro leagues are in their off-season
    → This may be a good thing for the tournament, as players are in peak condition and form.  England scored a whopping 6 goals in their match, and Holland looked solid as well.  Two teams brimming with players in mid-season form for their clubs
  • The above points have lead to some key injuries, and most likely will lead to some during the tournament
    → So far this hasn’t affected any games significantly. France will be the first big test, with out Kante, Pogba, and Benzema
  • There is a lot of outside noise surrounding corruption and human rights abuses in the host country of Qatar
    → This is not something that we have heard anything about really, so it’s hard to tell.
  • As always for World Cups, the teams do not have a very long time to practice together and to gel as a unit. Players are coming from different teams, different leagues, and to be on the same page in soccer is crucial
    → As I mentioned earlier, this seems to not be an issue for teams like England and Holland so far.  USA and Wales were maybe a little less fluid

Okay, that’s it for now!  The next 3 days we will be attending the 4pm and 10pm games, so lots of soccer, lots of travel, and hopefully lots more fun!

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