The field of dreams – and the story behind it
Al Bayt is where the World Cup’s showcase opening match takes place, a semi-final too, plus group games involving England, USA, Germany, Spain, Croatia and the Netherlands. At 60,000, the second-largest 2022 venue by capacity after Lusail, Al Bayt is also the only site outside of the Doha Municipality and its metro network.
The city of Al Khor is not the sort of place you would ordinarily head to unless you were working in the oil industry. At some point in the future, Doha’s red metro line is planned to stretch this far north, but given the distance of around 55km from the centre of the capital to this former outpost surrounded by century-old watchtowers, that may be some time yet.
True, there are longer Tube lines in London but, Lusail apart, there’s little of interest en route and little reason for trains to stop in between. For the World Cup, shuttle buses, taxis and water taxis will be making the trek heading directly to Al Bayt, set on the southern outskirts of Al Khor nearest Doha.
Honing into view will be a vast marquee, as welcoming as it would be in the desert were this not a football stadium, a feast for the eyes beckoning in the distance. Its tent shape formed by fibreglass membranes woven with polytetrafluorothylene panels, the stadium reveals more intricate design details the closer you approach.
Rows of elegant thick-and-thin stripes in dark colours run around the middle to offset the stylish sand tone, patterns that the nomadic tribes here would have used for their own temporary abodes.
Al Bayt, in fact, means ‘house’, as in Bayt al Sha’ar, literally ‘House of Hair’, the mobile homes that Bedouin women across the Gulf weave with goat and camel hair, and sheep’s fleece. A scarcer sight as the region becomes more urbanised and Bedouins less nomadic, these tents have been woven for millennia.
It’s a concept the long-established architectural team at Beirut-based Dar Al Handasah has obviously enjoyed running with. Founded by four professors of engineering at the local American University in 1956, Dar rode the huge wave of urban and infrastructural development across the Arab world from the 1960s onwards, helping build back their own city after the devastating Lebanese Civil War of the 1980s.
Here in Al Khor, visitors are welcomed deeper into the tent when they step inside the stadium, with its weaving patterns of bright reds, whites and blacks within, another nod towards traditional hand-crafted embroidery, known as al sadu.
Certainly, the ornamentation would have been familiar to the 48,000 Qataris who packed into the Al Bayt Stadium for its opening night, the Arab Cup game with bitter local rivals Bahrain on November 30, 2021.
Also in attendance were the Emir of Qatar and FIFA president Gianni Infantino, the inauguration an important milestone in the country’s preparations for 2022. A record attendance was set ten days later for Qatar’s quarter-final with the UAE, 63,439.
On November 20, Ecuador will be the visitors when Qatar kick off the grand opening of the 2022 World Cup, a journey that has taken the nation 12 years and an estimated minimum of $220 billion to complete. You can expect a few fireworks.
Nine days later, the hosts take on the Netherlands here a week, but not before England and USA, and Germany and Spain, have settled their differences on the pitch. Three knock-out games take place here, including a semi-final that could well involve England and Portugal or, equally, Wales and Uruguay.
These, and three other games of the nine being played here have 10pm kick-offs. Extra-time, penalties and all other drama will push the long journey home to way past midnight, in case you have kids in tow.
Once the circus leaves town on December 14, like the tent it represents, Al Bayt will be packed up and half of it shipped out elsewhere. A 32,000-capacity stadium will remain in place, alongside whatever else (hotel? Shopping centre? Communal hall?) comes next.
Certainly, the needs of local club Al Khor are far more modest. Their badge depicting one of those historic watchtowers, the Knights currently top Qatar’s Second Division table, and even promotion probably won’t push crowd figures much beyond the low four figures. Their own ground is on the same side of town as Al Bayt, near the Al Khor mall.
Going to the stadium – tips and timings
Take the red metro to its northern terminus at Lusail. From there, fleets of shuttle buses will be making the 40km journey to the stadium, straight road all the way. Given the much larger crowds here, 60,000 as opposed to the 40,000 of most other venues, the distance from Doha and the 10pm kick-offs (so that UK and European TV stations can broadcast at 7pm and 8pm), the late finish is going to be a lot of queuing for your bus afterwards, with nowhere else to go.
Definitely take a top of some sort as you will have been in an air-conditioned environment for at least two hours before standing around in what is, effectively, the desert at night in winter. You then climb into an air-conditioned bus, eventually.
There is talk of water taxis, a service to be fully introduced for the 2030 Asian Games and possibly tested for 2022, with no details currently available. Note that the Al Bayt Stadium is inland, a good five kilometres from Al Ferkiah Beach.
The full schedule – who's playing and when
From the opening showcase to the second semi-final, Al Bayt has a starring role as the second-most important stadium in the tournament, after Lusail. Qatar have two group games here, the last one against the Netherlands, while the England-USA and Spain-Germany blockbusters should raise the roof. Morocco will have plenty of support for the game against Croatia, while the semi could involve… France? England? Belgium?
November 20, 7pm: Qatar-Ecuador (Group A)
November 23, 1pm: Morocco-Croatia (Group F)
November 25, 10pm: England-USA (Group B)
November 27, 10pm: Spain-Germany (Group E)
November 29, 6pm: Netherlands-Qatar (Group A)
December 1, 10pm: Costa Rica-Germany (Group E)
December 4, 10pm: Round of 16, 1st Group B-2nd Group A
December 10, 10pm: QF, Winners match 51-Winners match 52
December 14, 10pm: SF, Winners match 59-Winners match 60
All times are local. CET is 2hrs behind Qatar, UK 3hrs behind.