After walking up the steps of the Saoud bin Abdulrahman Stadium and looking down on the spotless green lawn, the prospect of playing football was decidedly unappealing. The stifling heat makes it uncomfortable to be outside for more than 10 or 15 minutes at the peak of the day.
This is where England will train during the World Cup later this month.
White buildings can be seen in the low stands before they disappear into the desert haze, with prayers echoing as the clock strikes 4pm, a setting that reminds that this World Cup will be very different.
Qatar match plagued by controversy and human rights concerns sports Explored while visiting eight of the country’s stadiums during preparations for the world to go to town.
After visiting the stadium, sports Thought it would be worth visiting some of the World Cup training venues as well to get a better idea of what players might expect when they arrive.
when sports When visiting in July, there was an empty car park around the stadium where England will train. Although there are not many people around, there are still several food and beverage outlets open.
They cater to the drive-by tourists who come in for a sandwich or iced coffee in an air-conditioned vehicle on a hot day. A coffee stand is staffed by Filipino workers Cecil and Kane.
Of course, Kane shares the same name with England captain Harry, who will soon be practicing on the pitch behind her booth. At first, she said she hadn’t heard of him, but after seeing a photo, she suggested in disbelief that he might look familiar. She is not a football fan and loves basketball, like many of her compatriots.
The two women did not know England would be here, but they did watch a game recently at a new stadium in Qatar after tournament organisers handed out free tickets to locals to test the facility.
Qataris make up a tiny fraction of the population of a country that has imported a large workforce in recent years in preparation for the World Cup. As impressive as this transformation may be, it comes at a human cost. Migrant workers from many countries have been exploited, injured and, in the worst cases, lost their lives.
The Saoud bin Abdulrahman Stadium is not one of the new developments, but an older, smaller facility. It is usually home to Al Wakrah SC, who finished third in the Qatar Stars League last season and won the title in 1999 and 2001.
Few of the team’s current players are familiar outside the Middle East, but former stars include World Cup winner Frank Leboeuf, who played 10 games for the club in 2004-05; Arangoma; and skilled striker Alan Waddell, cousin of England legend Chris, who had a brief stint here in 1986.
The site has training facilities and a gym. There is table football in the hallway. There’s also a canteen with plastic chairs and fancy wallpaper with a big screen that may soon be used for tactical instruction.
It’s all very pleasant, but not luxurious, and a far cry from the facilities of a Premier League club, although things may be very different now than when construction work was still going on in the summer.
At just 100 miles from top to bottom, Qatar is by far the smallest country to host the World Cup.
The vast majority of the population lives in the capital, Doha, and seven of the eight stadiums are accessible via the Doha Metro system. The eighth is Al Bayt, just a 25-minute drive from the nearest metro station.
All but the two World Cup teams will be based in and around Doha.
An exception to the Doha cluster is Germany. The 2014 winners will travel to the Zulal wellness resort at the northern tip of the country, an 80-minute drive north of the capital.
Belgium were initially envious of their European rivals’ training camp, thinking they would go a little further each game to reap the benefits of a combined hotel and training base.
Roberto Martinez’s team eventually found another option at the Salwar Hilton Hotel in the country’s south-west, not far from Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia, which is also eligible for the tournament.
Bases are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, and each training base and hotel must be approved by FIFA’s independent oversight body.
Teams are asked to enter first, second, and third options, and whoever asks for the first option first and qualifies the fastest gets their pick.
That doesn’t rule out last-minute chaos – in 2018, Brazil changed its mind a week ago. It didn’t help them, losing 2-1 to Belgium in the quarter-finals, and four years later, losing 7-1 to Germany in the semi-finals.
Each federation has a different thought process — whether it’s cost, proximity to a city or space, or even superstitions — and some states won’t state their preferred base until they qualify, just in case they “screw it up” “it.
Getting away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Doha is appealing to some.
Such is the case with England’s team hotels, Tivoli’s Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar on the shores of the Persian Gulf, a short drive from the stadium where they will train.
when sports While visiting, we were greeted by the staff and we were able to take pictures despite no prior notice.
The place is luxurious, with separate low-rise cabanas, giving players plenty of space to relax between training sessions and games.
The hotel has a wellness room, a well-equipped gym and direct access to the beautiful sandy beach. Fans hoping to share breakfast with Harry Kane or Raheem Sterling will be disappointed – rooms have been unavailable for months.
This is a “dry” hotel. The topic of alcohol has been debated on the eve of the match, with many restrictions on sales in Qatar.
Those looking for a drink won’t find it impossible, but things will be different from other games. Alcohol is readily available in hotel bars, but not outside bars, such as in restaurants or airports. There will be a fan area at the Bidda Park Centre, offering alcoholic beverages for a limited time.
Even in this relaxed, glamorous setting, it’s hard to avoid the big questions hanging over this World Cup – a Guardian investigation earlier this year found security guards working in Doha were paid exorbitantly Recruitment fee and work 12 hour shifts for them. Just £1 ($1.18) an hour.
A half-hour drive north on the other side of the suburbs of Doha is another stadium; this one is a bit bigger, but from the outside looks very similar to the one England will train.
With SUVs stopping for iced coffee, wide highways stretching into deserts and stifling summer heat, the western suburbs of Doha feel a bit like America’s dusty Southwest.
If you squint and ignore mosques, and signs in Arabic and English, you’re probably in Arizona.
Thani bin Jassim Stadium is where the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) trains ahead of Group B games against Wales, England and Iran.
The stadium is usually home to Al-Gharafa, another Qatari Star League team with a illustrious history, winning seven league titles but not since 2010. Notable figures who have played for the club include 1998 World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, Dutch star Wesley Sneijder and Costa Rica legend Paul Wanchope. Current players include Gabriel Pires, on loan from Benfica, and former Aston Villa and Bristol City Jonathan Cordega.
The stadium may be heavily guarded when the USMNT arrives, but in July, it’s easy to get out of the street, uninvited, unannounced, and look around the stadium and its buildings.
Despite the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, Qatar is a generally safe country, with the US military having the largest regional military presence at the massive Udeid Air Base just 30 minutes from the stadium.
There is an indoor sports center on the same site, with facilities including a large gym (above), offices and lounge areas. There’s also a tactical board with rows of chairs on which players can listen to coach Greg Berhalter’s instructions. The marble floors swish, there’s a lot of space inside, and the surroundings are much grander than Al Wakrah’s, although the medical room needs some work in July.
Just north of Doha is Lusail, a “planned city” planned and built over the past two decades, with a spectacular skyline that complements a sci-fi movie.
On the gleaming Doha Metro, one stop in front of Lusail is Qatar University.
Visited in mid-summer when it was almost deserted, the car park was empty, under the elevated train tracks back to Doha and the new Lusail Stadium.
The university is very big and the facilities are new and bright, but this time the security won’t let you sports Wander freely in the indoor facilities.
This creepy place will soon host arguably the greatest footballer in the world, as the Argentine team, captained by Lionel Messi, will play here. The other two teams expected to challenge at the end of the game, Spain and the Netherlands, will also be based here but train on different pitches.
The complex is large so all three can train without obstructing each other or overhearing tactical instructions.
These locations are all likely to be under high security during games to prevent curious fans from disturbing their heroes in preparation for the most important moment of their lives.
It’s hard to predict which stadium, waterfront hotel or college campus will be well known to audiences around the world.
But as hundreds of the world’s best footballers crowd into the mid-sized city, we’re sure to see some drama backstage at the training facility and on the pitch.
(Above: Simon Holmes/NurPhoto via Getty Images)