Friday’s match, dubbed the Lusail Super Cup, was the first time the new Lusail Stadium hosted such an audience. With a capacity of 80,000 seats, it is Qatar’s largest stadium for the eight World Cup and a golden masterpiece designed to host the final on December 18.
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The stadium stands were out of the water at halftime and there was none outside, as the late summer temperature was 34°C (93°F) but felt much hotter due to the humidity.
For hours, people have been walking out of the stadium after an almost overwhelming match to test the small Gulf nation’s readiness for the tournament, which kicks off on November 20.
“Let’s go through! We have kids!” shouted a man holding a sweaty child. “We need water. Is there water?” A woman shouted from behind the line.
Qatar is the first country in the Middle East and the youngest country to ever host the World Cup. While billions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure, it has never organized an event of this magnitude – which is unusual for a World Cup that will also take place in or around one city.
Four matches will be played around Doha each day for the first 12 days of the tournament. FIFA says 2.45 million tickets out of a potential 3 million have already been sold, and 1.2 million people are expected to visit, roughly half of Qatar’s population.
Organizers said exactly 77,575 people passed through the gates on Friday, the largest crowd ever in Qatar. Families brought young children to the stadium, where they arrived before the performance of Egyptian artist Amr Diab. Hundreds of Saudi fans wore the blue shirt of the Saudi club Al Hilal, who beat Zamalek of Egypt on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
With immigrants often moving in to fill the empty arenas, there were also hundreds of South Asian and African workers together in a section of the stadium, dressed in identical white, blue or red shirts. They left en masse at half-time to board the buses.
Asked about teething issues, a spokesperson for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy told Reuters the game is designed to identify operational issues and learn lessons for a “smooth” World Cup.
“Each team involved in organizing the event has gained invaluable experience that they will bring to this year’s tournament,” the spokesperson added in a statement.
In the chaos that followed the match, one fan who left the stadium swore, threw his elbows into the neck and pierced the hoop, followed by several other fans, trying to get to the subway.
The entrance to the station is 400 meters from the stadium, but fans waited in a row about 2.5 kilometers long, sneaking back and forth across an empty plaza. Officials said this was to prevent a stampede.
“This is a mess,” said Islam, an Egyptian fan who has lived in Doha since 2004 and had his hand around a tired, blind-eyed friend in class. “I don’t want to go to the World Cup anymore. Not if that’s the case.”
A supplier told Reuters that some suppliers, caterers, security personnel and medical staff had struggled to reach the stadium.
“Even some ambulances were driving around trying to figure out where you were supposed to be. We got the wrong directions over and over and the parking lanes we had were for many things that weren’t there,” said the supplier, who didn’t want to be named due to allergies.
The stadiums’ cooling system, which Qatar described as modern, has struggled to keep the stands cool. Humidity levels and temperatures will be lower when the tournament begins, but there will be other challenges.
Unlike on Friday, ticket holders will be able to drink beer outside the stadiums before and after each game.
Friday’s match was a test of stadium security. Near the stadium, dark-clad guards and baseball caps were positioned every few meters in the fairways, keeping an eye on the excited but well-behaved fans.
Outside, rangers patrolled the ocean in groups of five men or five women, each with a hook-shaped baton hanging from his belt. Some carried a handful of pressed handcuffs.