Fezzes, a Mexican wave, an inflatable camel: How Matt Barlow got to FOUR World Cup games in one day


Lionel Messi was in a fix. Time was running out and I was making a dash for the exits, striding for the Metro with a Kenny Rogers tune in my head, suddenly doubting the wisdom of this idea. This was not a fine time to leave the Lusail. 

Not with a monumental upset brewing but it seemed important to beat the traffic. That would be the only way to pull off the Qatar quadruple, a complete immersion in this strangest of World Cup tournaments by touching the four points of Doha’s compass in one day.

From Lusail in the north at 1pm, to Al Wakra down south at 10pm, via Education City in the west, and Stadium 974 in the east, featuring fezzes, face paint and an inflatable camel.

Sportsmail’s Matt Barlow (right) made it to four World Cup games in one day on Tuesday – below is his report on exactly how he made it to the four compass points of Qatari capital Doha

Underdogs Saudi Arabia (above) stunned Argentina with a 2-1 win in the first game of the day

Underdogs Saudi Arabia (above) stunned Argentina with a 2-1 win in the first game of the day

It did feel rather ominous when an email landed as Argentina came up against the Semi Automated Offside technology with directions of where to go if my ticket for Denmark against Tunisia did not download on the FIFA ticketing App.

At half-time, a couple of hours from kick-off, I checked. Sure enough, the ticket had not downloaded, and was still failing to download. Instead, another message suggested I check the internet connection. The internet connection was fine.

So were Argentina, one up and all over the Saudis. By the time I made an early split, they were in a hole and gripped by panic, performing a very reasonable impression of England against Iceland in Euro 2016.

All they knew had drained from their brains, replaced by fear and the dawning realisation that this was the World Cup when they were supposed to be delivering football’s greatest prize for football’s greatest player.

It is not all over but they have work to do and this will be filed away with North Korea 1966 and other incredible World Cup results. For Argentina, it is a hurtin’ that won’t heal. Yes, I searched the lyrics.

For the Saudis, the biggest day in their footballing history. Outside, pre-match, they were full of bravado. They were going to win they insisted. A couple of hours later, they were whipping off their head-dresses and twirling them around their heads as the Metro sped towards Education City.

With all the usual caveats regarding cost and conditions of the workforce, the Doha Metro has been a shining star of this World Cup. It is quick and slick, and it runs until 3am.

The Doha Metro used to ferry fans around is quick and slick - it's a shining star of the World Cup

The Doha Metro used to ferry fans around is quick and slick – it’s a shining star of the World Cup

In the early hours of Monday, returning from the opening game at the distant Al Bayt Stadium there were seven tirelessly polite young volunteers pointing their giant sponge fingers to move three weary journalists down the platform a few yards.

Tunisia and Denmark was a sea of red but I lost two croissants, a bottle of sun cream and a pen to the security team. Unsure whether this is down to a contravention of FIFA’s strict sponsorship rules. 

They are peeling labels from bottles if they do not contain the World Cup’s official drinks but there is no evidence of official French pastries. The chicken shawarma went down a treat, though, even if it meant buying a VISA gift card, because they do not accept any other credit cards.

All a bit of a faff but worth it to witness the latest chapter of the Christian Eriksen fairytale.

His cardiac arrest in Denmark’s opening game of the last major tournament sent a chill through football. To him doing his thing in a World Cup less than two years later is a miracle. It didn’t seem to matter if the Danes were not quite at their best. I made it inside with one minute on the clock. 

Barlow watched the goalless draw played out between Tunisia and Denmark at Education City

Barlow watched the goalless draw played out between Tunisia and Denmark at Education City

Watching Christian Eriksen strut his stuff for Denmark after his collapse was truly a miracle

Watching Christian Eriksen strut his stuff for Denmark after his collapse was truly a miracle

The anthems were playing as I hustled through the turnstiles. A family hurried along beside me. Dad, with the youngest on his shoulders pacing ahead of an older child, who trailed along with Mum, yelling at him to slow down. ‘Walk faster,’ he shouted back.

There was a game to see. Tunisia’s supporters rocked 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 travelling east for Mexico and Poland. Confirmation of the goalless draw came in as we whizzed under the city in conversation with a Colombian in a Santa Fe shirt, who had decided to cheer on Mexico.

The Mexicans have been the most visible supporters in Doha. They are hard to miss in sombreros, wrestling masks and emerald shirts.

There were hundreds milling about at the DECC main ticket office on Sunday, where unofficial sellers were asking more than £500 for a Category One ticket. It was hard to believe any were changing hands in this small nation with zero crime.

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Our intrepid reporter then made his way to Stadium 974 in the east of Doha for Mexico’s game

The Mexican fans have been the most visible supporters in Doha and are very hard to miss

The Mexican fans have been the most visible supporters in Doha and are very hard to miss

Where they installed 250,000 new security cameras, ahead of the World Cup. Where one journalist left his laptop in the back of a taxi and had it back in his possession within an hour.

But changing hands they were. One Mexican supporter thought this 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 over the course of this competition.

It is true they did vastly outnumber the Poles. Even so, there were a few seats spare inside the 974 Stadium. It is the one cleverly designed using precisely 974 shipping containers. 

There was a bonus fact, courtesy of Mo and Faiz, two Saudi fans who were still high on the thrill of beating Argentina, earlier in the day and who were also taking in this game. The number 974 is the dialling code for Qatar. Not just coincidence.

Here, I lost two small batteries to security but that seemed a fair price to pay and we were inside for the anthems, my first authentic Mexican Wave and my first cup of karak, a sweet milky tea flavoured with cardamom.

The final game on Barlow's journey was France's evening game against Australia's Socceroos

The final game on Barlow’s journey was France’s evening game against Australia’s Socceroos

Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe was the star man as Les Bleus triumphed 4-1

Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe was the star man as Les Bleus triumphed 4-1

The sombrero although it looks mighty fine, is not ideal headwear in a crowd. This was the main takeaway, but there was little to miss on the pitch apart from a penalty save to thwart Robert Lewandowksi.

Then, one stop on the Metro and into an Uber with Shoaib, who drove straight past the 974 on his way to Al Wakra, a small city to the south of Doha where France were launching the defence of their title against Australia.

The last two kilometres were on foot, and included a vault over a huge pipeline running down the centre of the road as I marched towards the shining beacon of Al Jaroud Stadium.

It was deceptively far and spirits were fading as I missed the entrance and had to factor in an unnecessary circuit but was in my seat in time to see Craig Goodwin fire the Aussies in front. Another shock to top and tail the day? It was not to be. France had too much class to go the same way as Argentina.

Many inside the stadium left to beat the traffic as the goals flew in. Imagine that. It is not as if there was another game to get to. It was a minute past midnight local time as the final whistle went. Four more anyone? 



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