In Doha, lull in football action no match for World Cup buzz

End of round of 16 gives way to a two-day break before quarter-finals. So, how are local residents and visitors filling the football void?

Doha, Qatar
The Doha Corniche has been a popular hangout spot during the World Cup [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Doha, Qatar – After 17 days of nearly round-the-clock World Cup action, Monal Iyer says it is time for a breather.

“We need a break; the football has been non-stop, every day,” the 40-year-old businessman from Mumbai, India, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday, the first day without a match since the opening of the tournament in Qatar on November 20.

“Now, a two-day break, and then I’ll be watching Argentina in Lusail – that will be amazing,” he said, before descending into the cavernous depths of Al Bidda metro station in central Doha.

He was on his way to Souq Waqif, a charming bazaar that has been buzzing with locals and tourists day and night since football came to town.

Football fans in Doha
Souq Waqif was busy again on Wednesday [Teo Kermeliotis/Al Jazeera]

“Yesterday, we went to sleep very late, but we woke up and came straight to the market to have some Qatari breakfast, buy spices and souvenirs. We enjoyed it a lot,” said Ignacio, a 29-year-old consultant from La Paz, Bolivia, who is visiting Qatar along with another Bolivian and an Italian friend.

“It’s nice to have a little bit of a recovery, because it’s been very fast-paced – but we will miss football,” added Ignacio, who supports Brazil.

Thankfully for him, his favourite team will be the first back in action on Friday when they face Croatia to kick off the quarter-final stage at 6pm (15:00 GMT), before Argentina and the Netherlands square off at 10pm (19:00 GMT).

The other two quarter-finals will be played on Saturday, with Morocco facing Portugal and England taking on France.

‘Best time to visit Doha’

Whatever the results, Souq Waqif will be lively. The bazaar has emerged as the top destination for post-match celebrations – whether it is Saudi Arabia fans after the shock victory over Argentina in the early days of the World Cup, or Morocco supporters following the Atlas Lions’ heroics against Spain on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday afternoon, Morocco fans were still jubilant.

“We had our tickets to go back [tonight], but we changed it to stay here for three more days and support Morocco,” said Mohamed, a 41-year-old finance professional.

Football fans in Doha [Teo Kermeliotis/Al Jazeera]
Morocco fans are not going home yet [Teo Kermeliotis/Al Jazeera]

In-between taking photographs of the souq, he said he planned to use the current lull in the action to tick some items off his Qatar bucket list.

“[It is the] best time to visit Doha; we are trying to go to many places, like the Museum of Islamic Art and the Corniche.”

Indeed, the IM Pei-designed museum and the nearby Corniche were on most visitors’ lips when asked how they planned to fill the two-day football void. Others had arranged desert safaris, trips to shopping centres or a night out at one of the several fan zones dotting Doha.

“This is a cool time to let us know this city and the country,” Maxwell Chen, a Chinese national who works for a solar energy company in Bangkok, Thailand, said of the break. “I want to get to know the culture and the food.”

Football fans in Doha
Support for Argentina is strong among the visitors in Qatar [Teo Kermeliotis/Al Jazeera]

‘We don’t want it quiet’

Still, Menal, from Muscat, Oman, who is visiting with her family other Omani friends residing in Qatar, said she would miss football on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Qatar is more of a quiet country,” added her friend, Issam, a hospital worker. “So all this activity is something nice for us, and we are going to miss it, even after the World Cup,” he said.

“We don’t want it quiet. But I don’t think, apart from not having a match, that it will be quiet [tonight]. Everyone will still be going out and it won’t be different.”

Football fans in Doha
Football fans in Msheireb Downtown Doha [Teo Kermeliotis/Al Jazeera]

Sanjib Khatri, a waiter at Football Coffee, a popular spot off Al Bidda Park for residents to watch the matches, agreed that the atmosphere has been very lively.

“Business has [taken] off,” he said, describing his workload during the last two-and-a-half weeks.

“It’s an exciting moment. We see people from all over the world,” added Khatri, who is from Nepal. “It will be nice for the football to start again, it will be good,” he said. “We need to work more.”

Sunil Kumar Sah, another Nepalese who drives a lime-coloured motorcycle around Doha making food deliveries, said he was expecting to be even busier in the days ahead.

“Sitting is no good, so I need to [do the] deliveries,” he said, adding that he was handling more orders during the World Cup.

‘No full days off’

For others who have also been busy working during the month-long event, this current break from football was needed to catch up with some of the action.

“Most of the time we follow the World Cup on our cell phones, on news websites, checking social media,” said Mohamed Reza, a limousine driver. “We don’t have the time, but today and tomorrow, we will have some and we can review all the videos.”

As for those tasked with capturing that action, Wednesday also provided a welcome and necessary respite.

“I’ve followed 17 matches in a row, so a lot of work to do,” Paolo Tomaselli, a reporter with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, said at Souq Waqif. “First time here to enjoy a couple of hours of relaxation … before working again in the afternoon.

“There are no full days off when there’s a World Cup.”

The next brief breather, perhaps, will come between the quarter-finals and the semi-finals, on December 11 and 12.

Source: Al Jazeera