DOHA, Qatar — Planes have been touchdown, from all world wide, each jiffy. They got here from London and Tokyo, Hong Kong and São Paulo. There can be about 300 scheduled passenger flights touchdown at Hamad Worldwide Airport on Saturday.
However amongst them have been dozens of planes that had not come far, typically just some hundred miles from the west and after barely reaching cruising altitude. They got here from Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s next-door neighbor, they usually carried excited folks in inexperienced jerseys and with no baggage to examine.
These World Cup commuters wouldn’t keep lengthy. Kickoff was at 4 p.m. They might get up again dwelling on Sunday, a piece day, in their very own beds.
They have been soccer followers, they usually carried solely what they wanted: banners, flags and a passport. They usually introduced a renewed sense of collective expectation as they arrived to cheer Saudi Arabia, the unlikely darling of the event, if not the whole Center East.
Beating Argentina will try this. Each recreation, now, is larger than the final. After shedding to Poland, 2-0, the subsequent, in opposition to Mexico on Wednesday, will resolve if Saudi Arabia reaches the spherical of 16. That hope will generate one other day like this one.
By midmorning, the airport in Doha was spilling out bursts of inexperienced. Amongst them have been the brothers Faris and Salman al-Hassan, contemporary off a brief flight from Riyadh and sporting inexperienced jerseys and scarves.
They might have come by automobile, they mentioned — Doha is about six hours from Riyadh — however Qatar, nervous about automobile visitors, disincentivized that concept for the World Cup. It created a brief toll of 5,000 Saudi riyal (about $1,330) for these driving throughout the border through the event.
Another was to park on the border and hop on a bus on the Abu Samra, Qatar, checkpoint, as hundreds of others had finished over the previous week. The no-frills bus trip is little greater than an hour, however the bus shouldn’t be the onerous half: Abu Samra is hours from any main Saudi metropolis.
So the selection was made by hundreds: Commute by air.
Get in. Cheer. Get out.
“We’ll go straight to the stadium and are available proper again,” Salman al-Hassan mentioned.
About 20 flights arrived in Doha from Saudi Arabian cities between daybreak and 1 p.m. on Saturday, timed only for the afternoon kickoff.
A Temporary Information to the 2022 World Cup
What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial occasion pits one of the best nationwide soccer groups in opposition to one another for the title of world champion. Right here’s a primer to the 2022 males’s event:
At 11:15 a.m., right here got here an Airbus 320 from Riyadh. One other huge Airbus departed close by Dammam, made a mild parabola within the sky, and touched down in Doha at 11:30 a.m. In its slipstream was a flight from Medina, then one other from Riyadh, then one from Damman, then one from Jeddah, throughout the Arabian Peninsula alongside the Crimson Sea.
That was within the area of an hour. Every flight, every big jet, disgorged bright-eyed revelers after which went again to fetch extra.
Into Qatar the followers got here, by means of customs and previous baggage declare — not a vital cease for many — and into the hushed corridor of the gleaming terminal. Some stopped at cubicles for a SIM card or some Qatari money. Some discovered a counter to stash their bag for the day, wishing that they had packed lighter.
Most, it turned out, had by no means been to Doha. It’s an rising world capital greater than a regional vacation spot.
This might be a fast fling, a one-day takeover. From the terminal the Saudis caught the metro, bought off on the Msheireb station within the metropolis middle, walked round and ate, after which bought again on the metro — the inexperienced line, fittingly — for an eight-stop trip to Training Metropolis Stadium.
There, Poland awaited, very a lot the visiting workforce.
Poland took the lead after 39 minutes when Piotr Zielinski turned in a cross from the star striker Robert Lewandowski. However the Saudis had arrived brimming with confidence and, backed by the raucous crowd, shortly went looking for an equalizer.
Salem al-Dawsari had an opportunity for one simply earlier than halftime, however his penalty kick was pushed apart by Poland’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The rebound fell to a teammate, however his sharp shot was saved, too. The green-clad followers within the stands groaned, and groaned once more when Lewandowski’s aim within the 82nd minute sealed Saudi Arabia’s defeat.
Irrespective of the consequence, all of this had come as a shock. Saudi Arabia’s soccer workforce had arrived in Qatar as a basic underdog, its roster drawn principally from home leagues. It started the event with the longest odds within the subject, 1,000-to-1, and permission from a minimum of the dominion’s de facto ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman, to not fear an excessive amount of about wins or losses.
However down by 1-0 to Lionel Messi and Argentina on Tuesday, Saudi striker Saleh al-Shehri grew to become an on the spot nationwide hero. Free on a breakaway, he despatched a sliding left-footer into Argentina’s aim. Al-Dawsari adopted a couple of minutes later with a thunderbolt into the upper-right nook.
The Saudis led and held to win. It was such an unlikely consequence that Wednesday was declared a nationwide vacation. That gave followers extra time, presumably, to stage their in-and-out pilgrimages on Saturday and what can be no less than yet one more.
Early on Saturday morning, earlier than 8 a.m., a household awoke of their houses in Riyadh and bought out the door for the airport. That group, the Abdulilah household — two aunts, their nieces and nephews and a cousin — had purchased tickets months in the past, for 600 riyal ($160 per particular person).
They considered driving to Doha — all however one had by no means been — however the price and the uncertainty about visitors and parking deterred them.
When extra flights have been added to the schedule just a few weeks in the past, they purchased airplane tickets for 999 riyal, or $266. Among the ladies within the group admitted that they weren’t monumental soccer followers. One, who most popular to provide her identify solely as Halah, had not heard of the now-famous gamers till the final match.
Her cousin, Luluh, mentioned the match can be her first-ever sporting occasion — a prospect that bought infinitely extra thrilling with the victory over Argentina.
“I used to be watching with my son, and he was terrified due to my screaming,” she mentioned.
Most Saudi followers arrived to the airport as they offered themselves on the stadium: adorned in inexperienced and typically holding a flag that may be worn as a cape. You may inform those who had flown in only for the day, no less than from Riyadh, as a result of that they had been handed free inexperienced scarves on the airport earlier than departing.
Even these in conventional Saudi gown — a white full-length thobe for males, and a gown-like abaya for girls — accentuated themselves with inexperienced or selected green-tinted abaya.
On the stadium, although, total rows of males sat in crisp white thobes amongst throngs of followers sporting inexperienced workforce jerseys — a loud sea of inexperienced and white speckled with Polish crimson. Each time al-Shehri or al-Dawsari touched the ball with a gap towards the aim, the followers lifted of their seats in anticipation.
The sudden event success of the Saudis has rallied the area, possibly in sudden methods. The Saudis led a Gulf-region blockade of Qatar in 2017, solely ending it in 2021, and there may be some pure nervousness as Saudis watch tiny Qatar increase its profile.
However that is the primary World Cup held within the Center East, and on the opening ceremony, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar sat with the Saudi chief, Sheikh Mohammed.
“Brothers,” a thobe-wearing man named Mohammed mentioned on the airport, describing the connection between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, even with the blockade. “Similar folks, completely different nation.”
Now they have been related by an airborne parade. Consultants have chimed in on the carbon footprint of this World Cup — scientists should not impressed by the host’s claims of neutrality — however journey accounts for about half of it, one report discovered. And air visitors coming out and in of Doha is a giant a part of that.
These considerations won’t sluggish the circulate from the west. And when the match ended, simply previous sunset, the day reversed itself.
The stadium emptied. The metro’s inexperienced line crammed with Saudi followers. 1000’s of soccer commuters crowded the airport once more.
They divided themselves onto planes that introduced them dwelling in the identical brief arcs — to Riyadh, to Dammam, to Medina, to Jeddah. They returned to the beds that that they had left within the morning. An tour greater than a visit, however one with a sense that may final.
“You by no means get the prospect to have the World Cup subsequent door,” Mohammed mentioned. “You may virtually stroll there.”