The field of dreams – and the story behind it
The easiest to reach of Qatar’s eight stadiums, the metro station alongside serving the Mall of Qatar, the Ahmad bin Ali is no less aesthetically pleasing than its counterparts. It’s also one metro station away from fellow World Cup venue Education City, meaning that, in theory, you could watch two games in one day. Sadly, the scheduling rules that out as fixtures are being played on alternate days here in Al Rayyan.
This is where Wales play all their group games, including the clash with England on November 29. It’s also near the Fan Village Cabins Rawdat Al Jahhaniya, one of several makeshift accommodation complexes set up for 2022.
Officially a separate city, Al Rayyan at the western edge of Metropolitan Doha forms a wedge between the capital and the large, empty plains of Al Shahaniya that stretch out way, way east.
This location was not lost on planners BDP Pattern (aka Pattern Design). For this gateway to the desert, the London-based team envisaged the complex as being a convivial setting-off point or a welcoming retreat before or after exotic adventures.
The stadium façade is latticed with traditional Qatari motifs, behind which a huge screen of photovoltaic panels beams out patterns and images to those gathered on the concourse. Dotted around are food and drinks outlets, curved like the sand dunes that could be awaiting beyond. (Al Shahaniya is more a string of lowland depressions than dramatic desert landscapes but that hardly makes for exciting architecture.)
Pattern Design also worked on the Education City Stadium, using the concept diamond in the desert, although there the shape of the gemstone in question inspires the construction rather than geography.
Al Rayyan lends its name to the local club that has won eight Qatar Stars League titles, putting it second in the all-time table, and six Emir Cups. Frank de Boer spent half a season here before retiring in 2006, previous managers include Laurent Blanc and Michael Laudrup.
The Ahmad bin Ali, also called the Al Rayyan Stadium, has been built using rubble from the former ground knocked down in 2015, but also upon 55 years of footballing activity. More in fact, as Al Rayyan’s heritage dates back further than the official founding year of the club, 1967. Supported by volunteers and funded by its followers, an amateur team played games across Qatar. Red has been the colour in Al Rayyan for several generations.
And, doubtless pleasing to Wales fans, red it will stay. Half the distinctive seating of the Ahmad bin Ali/Al Rayyan Stadium will form a 21,000-capacity ground for the popular local club while the rest will be transported to a willing recipient.
There’s no issue about its post-World Cup function either, as there’s no need to try a shoehorn a boutique hotel or leisure centre into its shell. This was, is and will remain, a football stadium. It will also be one of several venues to co-host the football tournament of the 2030 Asian Games.
The Ahmad bin Ali got its match practice with the Club World Cup of 2020, for which it shared hosting duties with its near neighbour, Education City. Initially postponed due to the pandemic, it was shifted to February 2021, when Bayern Munich won both their games without conceding a goal to lift the trophy. Crowds were scarce though, due to Covid restrictions.
Later that year, it was one of six World Cup stadiums to stage the 2021 Arab Cup, with attendances in similar numbers to witness Mauritania getting walloped by Tunisia and Bahrain falling to Oman. There was more interest in Morocco’s fixture with Jordan, another group fixture.
With Al Rayyan having their worst season in living memory, rooted to the bottom of the Qatar Stars League, it may be some time before even the reduced capacity here is anywhere near tested post World Cup.
A few words about the stadium name. The Ahmad bin Ali in question is Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani, Emir of Qatar during the country’s seminal period of transition between a British protectorate state and an independent nation in the Gulf.
The local economy boomed with the discovery of major oil fields and the development of offshore facilities in the 1960s. Deposed by his cousin in 1972, he died undergoing cancer treatment in London five years later, when only in his mid-fifties.
Right opposite the stadium is the Mall of Qatar, one of Doha’s largest and newest. Of the many cafés and restaurants, there’s a Mongolian grill, a retro Arabic eatery, a steakhouse and an Indian restaurant among the standard chains.
Going to the stadium – tips and timings
The Ahmad bin Ali Stadium is the most accessible of Qatar’s eight World Cup stadiums, so close to the Al Riffa Mall of Qatar metro station that there’s no need for shuttle buses. This is at the end of the green line, and so directly connected with Al Bidda in the centre of town, where you find Doha’s main fan zone.
Note that as the terminus, Al Riffa Mall of Qatar is a big metro station, with separate walking lanes for women and children, and single males.
The full schedule – who's playing and when
Wales play all their group games at Al Rayyan, starting with USA, followed by Iran, then the key clash with England. Fans of Belgium and Canada will be equally at home among the red seats of the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, where Japan and Costa Rica also scrap it out for group-stage qualification. Plenty of stars will be on view when Croatia play Belgium, before the stadium finishes its hosting duties with a Round of 16 fixture.
November 21, 10pm: USA-Wales (Group B)
November 23, 10pm: Belgium-Canada (Group F)
November 25, 1pm: Wales-Iran (Group B)
November 27, 1pm: Japan-Costa Rica (Group E)
November 29, 10pm: Wales-England (Group B)
December 1, 6pm: Croatia-Belgium (Group F)
December 3, 10pm: Round of 16, 1st Group C-2nd Group D
All times are local. CET is 2hrs behind Qatar, UK 3hrs behind.