Al Janoub Stadium

Created by Zaha Hadid, inspired by pearls and dhows

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

It’s fitting that the most famous name in international contemporary architecture whose roots lie in the Gulf region, Zaha Hadid, was responsible for the Al Janoub Stadium, especially when you consider its look, its location and its legacy.

In 2013, the London-based UK-Iraqi designer unveiled plans for what was originally called the Al Wakrah Stadium, after the former fishing and pearling village it was set in. Three years later, Hadid died of a sudden heart attack in a Miami hospital, several prestigious projects around the world left in various states of readiness.

Her team in Clerkenwell, London, then saw her concept through to the letter, creating the most streamlined of Qatar’s eight World Cup stadiums. How could it not be? Hadid, the Queen of the Curve, had been inspired by the waves of the sea that separates Qatar from Iraq, and the dhow boats that still bob upon them. 

The shell-like roof of the later named Al Janoub Stadium refers not to the catch that generations of Al Wakrah fishermen have landed on Qatar’s shore, but rather to the sails of the traditional dhows that have guided them over these oil-rich waters.

Before the 2008 urban development plan that transformed this sleepy seaside village of pearl-divers and fishing folk into a modern-day city – in order to cope with the population overspill from Doha – 

Al Wakrah would have been one of the least likely locations for a 40,000-capacity World Cup stadium. Just look at the badge of the local football team of the same name, a quaint sailboat underscored by a blue wave and the foundation date of 1959. Initially a youth club, it later branched out into organised sports but only got serious about football when it started hiring foreign coaches, including former Sunderland stalwart Len Ashurst.

Around the same time, in the 1980s, the first Al Wakrah stadium was built, as modest as the number of spectators turned up to watch the Sky Blues. The Cyan Waves have four league crowns to their name, two national titles won either side of the new century, and two Second Division ones, the last most recently garnered in 2019. 

This is not the kind of footballing prowess that you would think should warrant the hiring of one of the world’s most sought-after architects to create a stadium to showcase.

But this is Al Wakrah. Looking to spread investment away from Doha, and bring visitors and, indeed, potential residents some 15km south, the authorities first opened the Al Wakrah Heritage Village in 2016, then a main road from the capital in 2019 and then the southern extension of Doha’s metro network, the north-south red line that now terminates here. (Here being north of the centre, on the city limits of both Doha and Al Wakrah, meaning quite a lengthy journey by shuttle bus once you arrive.)

Al Wakrah is also a pleasant place to spend time, blessed with popular beaches. It has something of the Qatar-like-it-used-to-be about it, and although that’s partly illusion, the traditional houses of the wealthy pearl merchants and date traders deliberately kept in their original condition, menfolk still go out and fish. 

When Ashurst coached here 40 years ago, the population Al Wakrah was 17,000. It’s now five times that, and counting. Bringing fans of France, Denmark and Australia, who play all their group games here, to Al Wakrah, the Qataris can display something of their country’s origins – and show how far they’ve come since then.

Ergo, Zaha Hadid. It’s not only the retractable roof that chimes with the local seafaring heritage. The entire interior feels like the hull of a ship, offering a sense of sanctuary and refuge from the beating sun. 

Originally designed for a summer World Cup, Hadid’s untimely death coming before the 2015 announcement of the switch to winter, the Al Janoub Stadium has a cooling system within that keeps temperatures around 20 degrees in the stands and on the pitch.

As at most of the other grounds, half the seating will be taken away after the tournament and shipped to a worthy recipient. For a relatively short time then, from the Gulf Cup semi-final of December 2019, to the Asian Champions League final a year later, six Arab Cup games in 2021 and now seven World Cup matches, Al Wakrah will have welcomed the football circus coming to town. 

With Al Wakrah doing surprisingly well in the current Qatar Stars League, this once busy port may well stay in the limelight for just a little longer.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Take the red metro all the way to its southern terminus at Al Wakrah, where fleets of shuttle buses await to drive you to the stadium. After the game, you may have to queue a fair while to board your bus, with everyone leaving at the same time.

For the only late game here, which finishes close to midnight, it may be an idea to bring something long-sleeved while you wait as you will have been sitting in an air-conditioned environment for most of the evening.

fixture list

The full schedule – who's playing and when

Australia play all their group games south of Doha at the Al Janoub Stadium, first against world champions France, then Tunisia and finally a tough test against Denmark. Switzerland and Cameroon meet in an intriguing fixture, before the African side meet Serbia. Meanwhile, Ghana have been waiting 12 years to avenge a controversial defeat to Uruguay in South Africa. The winners of Group E (Spain? Germany? Japan? Costa Rica?) then face the runners-up in Group F.

November 22, 10pm: France-Australia (Group D)

November 24, 1pm: Switzerland-Cameroon (Group G)

November 26, 1pm: Tunisia-Australia (Group D)

November 28, 1pm: Cameroon-Serbia (Group G)

November 30, 6pm: Australia-Denmark (Group D)

December 2, 6pm: Ghana-Uruguay (Group H)

December 5, 6pm: Round of 16, 1st Group E-2nd Group F

All times are local. CET is 2hrs behind Qatar, UK 3hrs behind.