4 World Cup games in one day? An AP reporter’s challenge

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) – Qatar’s World Championship is the most compact in historywith all eight stadiums emanating from the capital in a country smaller than the US state of Connecticut, and the two most distant stadiums being barely 40 miles apart.

This raised a question in the group stage of the tournament: can a fan actually attend all four games in a single day? On Monday I decided to find out.

FIRST MATCH – CAMEROON VS SERBIA

After drinking two large coffees, my odyssey began. It was 11:22 and I had over an hour and a half before the first game: Cameroon vs Serbia kicking off at 13:00 at Al Janoub Stadium, approximately 30 kilometers and a 90 minute drive south of my hotel in central Doha.

I rode Doha’s brand new subway, which is free for World Cup ticket holders, to the stadium. The underground tunnel spat me out onto the city’s bright desert edge. It was so hot – 32 degrees Celsius, or almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit – that you understand why this tournament had to start in November, another first for the World Cup. Security guards dressed in neon vests got us onto the buses.

Despite the teeming crowd, it was a smooth ride to the gates. “Stadium, this way!” the guards sang in unison, a tune that formed a hypnotic soundtrack to this World Cup. It was 12:35 p.m. The game soon started.

When Cameroon scored the first goal, the crowd went wild. But their quick start flagged as Serbia fired back with two goals. Then a third. Cameroon scored a second time. Then a third! This wasn’t a normal game. I was tied up. The game was tied, 3-3.

But I had a difficult choice. If I wanted to make Ghana vs South Korea at 4 p.m. in Al Rayyan – 17 miles (27 kilometers) further north – I had to get out of there. Quickly. I ran away in the 80th minute just as Cameroon’s Georges-Koudou took a corner kick.

There was only an hour between games and the subway to Education City Stadium would take over two full hours. There was no way I would make it in time.

SECOND MATCH – SOUTH KOREA VS GHANA

I stomped the sidewalk and hailed a cab instead. Fans clogged the streets with traffic. It was an anxious 40 minutes in the car. When I got to Education City Stadium it was 3:51pm. I sprinted through an entrance for journalists while Korean and Ghanaian fans took their seats. As I reached the grandstand, the kickoff countdown sounded: “Three, two, one!”

The Ghanaians sang constantly. Red-clad Korea fans banged giant drums and jumped up and down with unyielding loyalty even as Ghana scored twice.

The action picked up in the second half as Korea scored back-to-back headed goals. Ghana scored a third goal.

As much as I wanted to get carried away by the color and noise, I kept checking the traffic on my phone. In the 75th minute, with Ghana leading 3-2, I forced myself out of the stadium and sprinted to the subway before it could become a bottleneck, as often happens after games – not knowing who won .

The cheering Ghanaians at the train station told me all about the final score. The subway could have been a nightclub. Afrobeat music blared. Annan-Mettle Ebenezer, a 36-year-old security guard from Ghana, started dancing while his friends cheered him on.

“We were the best! Our strength, our muscles!” he exclaimed, moved by the moment in a way rarely seen outside of the World Cup.

MATCH THREE – BRAZIL VS SWITZERLAND

I made it to Stadium 974, which is located near Hamad International Airport in Doha and is named after both Qatar’s international telephone code and the 974 shipping containers that make it up and that will be dismantled after the World Cup. I timed this well, with 15 minutes to get to my seat before the 7pm kick-off. Brazilian stragglers in yellow and blue wigs rushed to the entrance, their excitement palpable.

Unlike the last two, this game lacked excitement. After an hour, no goal had been scored. Brazil’s first try was disallowed for offside, frustrating fans.

In the 75th minute I thought I wasn’t going to miss anything. As I stormed out of the stadium into the street in the final minutes of the game, I heard the crowd erupt in hysteria. Behind me echoed the unmistakable roar of a World Cup goal.

Brazil 1, Switzerland 0.

FOURTH MATCH – PORTUGAL VS URUGUAY

I felt down for missing it. But there was no time for regrets. The Lusail Stadium, the final between Portugal and Uruguay, was still 20 kilometers and an hour away by metro.

Elbows pressed into the torsos of strangers on the train, heads squeezed under the armpits. I wasn’t the only one trying to do both matches.

Rodrigo Gonzalez Cejas, a 42-year-old Argentine lawyer in the Metro, said he didn’t mind missing Brazil’s last-minute goal. It is more important to see as many games as possible.

He said he frequently made it to three games a day at this World Cup, leaving in the final minutes and running for his life to the next goal. I told him about my experiment and tried to understand why he put himself through such a grueling routine. “I love football,” Gonzalez Cejas answered and then stormed off the train.

I was exhausted, my feet dragged. According to my cell phone, I had just walked 15 kilometers. But the sight of thousands and thousands of adoring fans from all over the world pouring into the gleaming stadium revitalized me.

Thinking that I had nowhere to run but to my hotel bed well past midnight, I soaked up the atmosphere and stayed until the end to watch Portugal beat Uruguay 2-0 advance to the round of 16.

The lesson?

It is possible to watch four World Cup games in one day in Qatar. But in the future I think I’ll stick with just one.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Follow Isabel DeBre on Twitter at www.twitter.com/isabeldebre.

Leave a Comment