Lionel Messi was in a bind. Time was running out and I was running for the exits, walking towards the Subway with a Kenny Rogers tune in my head, suddenly doubting the wisdom of this idea. It was not a good time to leave the Lusail.
Not with a monumental upset brewing, but it seemed important to beat traffic. That would be the only way to pull off the Qatar quadruple, a complete immersion in the strangest of World Cup tournaments by touching all four points of the Doha compass in one day.
From Lusail in the north at 1pm, to Al Wakra in the south at 10pm, past Education City in the west and Stadium 974 in the east, complete with fezzes, face paint and an inflatable camel.
Sportsmail’s Matt Barlow (right) reached four World Cup matches in one day on Tuesday; Below is his report on how exactly he reached the four cardinal points of the Qatari capital, Doha.
Underdogs Saudi Arabia (above) stunned Argentina with a 2-1 victory in the first game of the day
It felt pretty ominous when an email arrived showing Argentina dealing with semi-automated offside technology with instructions on where to go if my ticket for Denmark vs. Tunisia didn’t download into the FIFA ticket app.
At the break, a couple of hours after the kick-off, I checked. Sure enough, the ticket had not been downloaded and was still not downloading. Instead, another message suggested that I check the Internet connection. The internet connection was fine.
Also Argentina, one above and above the Saudis. When I did an early split they were in a hole and in a panic, giving a very reasonable impression of England against Iceland at Euro 2016.
Everything they knew had been drained from their brains, replaced by fear and the nascent realization that this was the World Cup when they were supposed to hand out the biggest award in soccer to the greatest player in soccer.
It’s not all over, but they have work to do and this will be archived with North Korea 1966 and other incredible World Cup results. For Argentina it is a pain that does not heal. Yes, I looked up the lyrics.
For the Saudis, the most important day in their football history. Outside, before the game, they were full of bravado. They were going to win, they insisted. A couple of hours later, they were removing their headdresses and twirling them around their heads as the Metro sped toward Education City.
With all the usual caveats in terms of cost and labor conditions, the Doha Metro has been a shining star of this World Cup. It’s fast and slippery, and it runs until 3am.
The Doha metro used to transport fans is fast and stylish – it’s a shining star of the World Cup.
In the early hours of Monday, returning from the opening game at the faraway Al Bayt stadium, there were seven tirelessly friendly young volunteers pointing their giant sponge fingers to move three weary journalists up the platform a few metres.
Tunisia and Denmark were a red sea but I lost two croissants, a bottle of sun cream and a pen for the security team. I’m not sure if this is due to a breach of FIFA’s strict sponsorship rules.
They’re peeling the labels off the bottles if they don’t contain the official World Cup drinks, but there’s no evidence of official French cakes. However, the chicken shawarma was delightful, even if it meant buying a VISA gift card, because they don’t take any other credit cards.
It’s all a bit weird, but the final chapter of Christian Eriksen’s fairy tale is well worth witnessing.
His cardiac arrest in Denmark’s opening match at the last major tournament sent a chill through football. For him to do his thing in a World Cup less than two years later is a miracle. It didn’t seem to matter if the Danes weren’t at their best. I made it in with a minute on the clock.
Barlow watched the goalless draw between Tunisia and Denmark at Education City
Watching Christian Eriksen strut around Denmark after his collapse was truly a miracle.
Anthems played as I rushed through the turnstiles. A family ran next to me. Daddy, with the smallest one on his shoulders, was pacing in front of an older boy, who was following Mommy, yelling at her to slow down. “Walk faster,” she yelled at him.
There was a game to watch. The Tunisian supporters shook the stadium with their drums and songs, and somehow kept their fezzes in place as they bounced relentlessly. They deserved a goal.
I left with 15 minutes to go. The sun had set and I was traveling east towards Mexico and Poland. Confirmation of the goalless draw came when we buzzed under the city chatting with a Colombian in a Santa Fe jersey, who had decided to cheer on Mexico.
Mexicans have been the most visible supporters in Doha. They’re hard to miss in sombreros, wrestling masks, and emerald jerseys.
There were hundreds milling around the main DECC ticket office on Sunday, where unofficial vendors were asking upwards of £500 for a Category One ticket. It was hard to believe anyone would change hands in this small nation with zero crime.
Our intrepid reporter then headed to Stadium 974 in eastern Doha for the Mexico game.
The Mexican fans have been the most visible in Doha and it is very difficult to miss them
Where they installed 250,000 new security cameras, facing the World Cup. Where a journalist left his laptop in the back of a taxi and got it back in an hour.
But changing hands they were. A Mexican fan thought that it was a good price and that it would be impossible to get a ticket with more than 60,000 of his compatriots bound for Qatar during this competition.
It is true that they vastly outnumbered the Poles. Even so, there were some free seats inside the 974 Stadium. It is the ingeniously designed using precisely 974 shipping containers.
There was an additional tidbit, courtesy of Mo and Faiz, two Saudi fans who were still excited to beat Argentina earlier in the day and who were also enjoying this game. The number 974 is the Qatar dialing code. Not just coincidence.
Here, I lost two small batteries because of security, but it seemed like a fair price and we were inside to listen to the hymns, my first authentic Mexican wave and my first cup of karak, a sweet cardamom flavored milk tea.
The last game on Barlow’s trip was France’s afternoon game against the Socceroos of Australia.
Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappé was the star of Les Bleus’ 4-1 win
The hat, although it looks great, is not ideal for headwear in a crowd. This was the main takeaway, but there was little to lose on the pitch other than a penalty save to frustrate Robert Lewandowksi.
Then a stop on the Metro and an Uber with Shoaib, who went straight through the 974 on his way to Al Wakra, a small town south of Doha where France was launching their title defense against Australia.
The last two kilometers were on foot and included vaulting over a huge pipe that ran down the center of the road as it marched towards the bright beacon of Al Jaroud Stadium.
I was deceptively far away and tempers were fading when I missed the start and had to account for an unnecessary circuit, but I was in my seat in time to see Craig Goodwin see off the Aussies up front. Another scare to finish off and tail the day? It was not going to be. France had too much class to go down the same path as Argentina.
Many inside the stadium left to beat the traffic while the goals came. Imagine that. It’s not like there’s another game to get to. It was a minute past midnight local time when the final whistle blew. Four more anyone?
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