We emerge from the metro station full of trepidation as texts flow in reporting Qatar’s main World Cup fan zone has descended into a riot zone, then the friendly volunteer puts us at ease through his megaphone.
“Ladies and gents, you are all welcome! Continue straight for the Fifa Fan Fest!”
The dream is still alive, even though we tempted fate by leaving our hotel just an hour before kick-off.
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Joining tens of thousands of others streaming from Al Bidda Station on the 1km walk to the second hottest destination in town, behind Al Bayt Stadium – where the Qatar v Ecuador opener is being played – spirits are high.
Then comes the bad news.
“The FIFA fan festival is already closed,” we’re told.
“Please turn right, go to Corniche and watch from the big screens!”
It’s probably a blessing. The news from some of the Australian fans already inside is not good.
“It’s a riot” .. “complete disaster” … “so disorganised” … “comical” … “we won’t be coming back here”.
Footage begins to emerge of the chaotic crowd rush within. Then we surge past a 40m line for the bathroom – surely a greater deterrent for a pint of beer than even the $25 price tag.
The question becomes … If not the fan zone, where does this quest end?
Sadly, it’s not in the nearby Corniche, where the area for the two big screens on offer are completely overwhelmed by the thousands who have been redirected from the fan zone..
A smaller crowd of 150 people has gathered around another big screen. We could be on here. Only to realise they’re, bizarrely, watching an information screen.
These fans are going to go home disappointed. Unless they’re trying to work out how to get away from this venue. Which, if they want to watch the World Cup, then perhaps they should be.
Further down the road a man in an Arsenal shirt asks ‘where are the screens?’. He seems defeated.
But not us. We are determined.
So we do what any Australian would when in search of sport on TV: ask ourselves ‘where’s the nearest pub?’
It’s 22 minutes away. Not an insurmountable task. And our journey will take us through the iconic Souq Waqif, which surely will be heaving with World Cup fever.
Controversy within minutes of opener | 00:30
We push on, but the World Cup has begun and we are missing it and somehow – despite being here in Qatar – in another world.
This city has come alive but away from the stadiums and fan zones it is not all about the Cup, it seems, even when the host nation is playing.
When Ecuadorian Enner Valencia’s World Cup-opening goal is scored – and then scratched off via a tight VAR decision – we are walking past a dozen horses who seem as mystified to see us in downtown Doha as we are to see them.
When Valencia converts a penalty in the 16th minute we’re wandering through the souq – a market which is a melting pot of restaurants and shops offering everything a tourist could ask for, even pony rides.
All except, of course, for a television tuned into beIN Sport 1 – save for a camping store that has a small group crowding around a tiny screen.
But we’re too close to quit and so we traverse the streets, past a man watching on his phone outside an electrical store, to find the holy grail.
As we reach the 12th floor and walk onto the rooftop bar with a glorious big screen, Valencia nabs his second. Qatar’s World Cup hopes have gone up in flames, before we’ve seen little more than a moment of live action.
But there are $A16 beers — the cheapest in town apparently — $A10 pizzas and friendly locals to mingle with. It’s a surprise win on a night full of unexpected twists and turns – unlikely to be the last of those over the next few weeks.