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Qatar gets ready as four-year World Cup countdown nears

Qatar has promised to deliver the eight stadiums two years before the World Cup kicks off.

Bengaluru/Doha, November 20: With Wednesday (October 21) marking the exact four-year countdown to the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar, the country is getting ready to host the first-ever quadrennial extravaganza to be held in the Middle East.

The Qatar 2022 World Cup will be held from November 21 to December 18 as in a break from tradition, the tournament was controversially pushed back to a winter window because of the scorching summer temperatures in the tiny Middle East country.

The organisers are building only eight stadiums for the one-month tournament and are promising to deliver the completed venues two years before the kick off.

One is already completed -- the Khalifa International Stadium in the capital Doha which reopened in May last year after renovations, including the installation of a cooling system that can take the temperature in the venue down to the mid-teens.

The stadium hosted last year's the prestigious season-ending Emir's Cup final featuring two former Barcelona legends -- Xavi Hernandez-led Al Sadd vs Michael Laudrup coached Al Rayyan.

The Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor will be the most northerly venue, seating some 60,000 in a stadium covered by a giant tent structure, but the rest are in and round Doha, making for a World Cup that will have little in common with those that have come before it.

Qatar will be the smallest country to host the finals, with the distance between the two furthest venues a mere 72 kilometres.

The tournament may be just four years away, but there is still no word as to whether it would be a 32-team one like the one held in Russia in June, or an expanded 48-team one as FIFA President Gianni Infantino wants it.

Any expansion would mean Qatar possibly sharing some matches with their neighbours but the country is the subject of an economic blockade imposed by four of them.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut transport and trade links with Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorism and Iran - charges which Qatar have denied vehemently.

The boycott disrupted Qatar's shipping routes through the Gulf and blocked imports across its only land border, with Saudi Arabia, previously the route for its perishable food supplies and construction materials.

It has meant Qatar has had to dig into its deep pockets to find alternative trading partners and keep its World Cup preparations on track.

"To think there are people in the region who might not enjoy the first World Cup in the Middle East is very disappointing," said Hassan Al Thawadi, who heads the local organising committee (Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy).

"We look forward to this matter being sorted out. Football is for the people and we want this tournament to reach the people of the region," he added.

Infantino, who is ready to step in to end the diplomatic row, wants the tournament to be shared among Gulf countries.

"Personally, as president of FIFA, I would be very happy if some matches could be shared with some countries in the region," said Infantino, adding that football had the power to break the impasse if all else failed.

(With inputs from Agencies and local media)

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Story first published: Tuesday, November 20, 2018, 12:17 [IST]
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