All will be revealed on the opening days of an unusual Fifa World Cup
Analysis – With only a few days until the Fifa World Cup kicks off in Qatar, just as many eyes will be looking at the action off the field, writes Coen Lammers from Doha.
The biggest show on Earth is only a few days away and the excitement and expectations are about to reach fever pitch among the competing countries and even in the far corners of the globe where teams never expect to qualify for the Fifa World Cup.
The Fifa World Cup is the largest event on this planet uniting people through their love of the beautiful game. Even those Kiwis who are normally not interested in football or any sport, will get sucked in, or at some level be aware that the eyes of the world are focused on Qatar.
The 2022 tournament in Qatar has been shrouded in controversy since the tournament was awarded to the desert emirate and will most definitely be a different experience from previous events in traditional football nations.
Qatar is the first host nation that has never qualified for a World Cup, and to deal with the country’s extreme heat, the tournament has been shifted from its traditional June-July window, severely disrupting the global football calendar.
What else makes this tournament different is that all eight state-of-the-art stadiums, teams, media and fans are based around the capital of Doha.
The organisers have touted this as one of the big advantages of this World Cup, but the logistics of hosting 32 teams and 1.2 million visitors may push the city to breaking point.
The hosts have struggled to fulfil their promises around accommodation and have pulled out all stops with additional cruise ships and container cities in the desert to find beds for their guests. The container set-up will be one of the few options the average fan will be able to afford, but even with two beds squeezed into a box in the desert, visitors will have to part with $200 for this simple pleasure.
At the other end, local landlords are not blinking to ask $45,000 for an apartment for the tournament, and intriguingly many of the higher end options have been snapped up by supporters with more disposable cash.
With four Fifa World Cup matches per day, the organisers have also celebrated the opportunity to watch more than one match on one day and one corporate sponsor has used the proximity to run a competition in which the winner can attend all 64 matches.
The chance to see multiple matches in one day may seem attractive to some, but for football romantics, the Qatar set-up has removed some of the most enjoyable aspects of attending a World Cup.
No longer will fans travel across a nation, making new friends, discovering new cities and cultures.
The 2022 World Cup will not see the fans of two competing nations take over a host city, party with the locals and build up the excitement to one big match.
Instead, Qatar has created a World Cup theme park. The match experiences will come and go as fast as the rollercoaster rides at Disney World, where the mind quickly drifts to the next delicious attraction, before you have had time to fully absorb the previous experience.
With one million visitors trying to get around the city to see multiple games, many observers are questioning how the Doha infrastructure will cope.
The local government has super-charged its roading upgrades, and to the surprise of many locals, most of the projects have been completed at the 11th hour.
To accommodate the World Cup traffic, the locals have been ordered into a virtual football lockdown, with schools closing and office workers being told to work from home for the duration of the tournament.
Only locals with a match ticket are allowed to travel on the public transport and any resident caught on the roads without a special exemption can expect a harsh treatment.
Doha has two metro lines, so it will be fascinating to see how the system will move hundreds of thousands of visitors around the city, especially at the Al Biddah station where the two lines cross.
The potential culture clash between football fans from every possible cultures, and the conservative local Qatari customs and laws has been well-documented and will be one of the main concerns for Fifa and the organisers.
The Qataris have reluctantly compromised around some of their tight alcohol rules, and permitted some areas where alcohol can be purchased at extortionate prices, but when the first group of intoxicated English or Danes are confronted by the specialist riot squads from Turkey, things could escalate pretty rapidly.
The Fifa World Cup is intended to be about the action on the pitch, but in Qatar just as many eyes will be looking at the action off the field.
Fifa, the Qatari organisers and visiting fans are all holding their breath as they step into the big unknown.
Fifa will be concerned how the Qatar experiment will unfold in the early stages, but they also know that as soon as the first ball is kicked and the first underdog causes an upset, the attention of the world will quickly switch to the stars of the beautiful game.
* Coen Lammers is attending the Fifa World Cup in Qatar for Radio New Zealand. Qatar will be the sixth Fifa World Cup he has covered.