Lusail Iconic Stadium

Golden bowl made for football’s finest occasion

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Wembley, the Maracanã, Lusail? Yup, the World Cup final is taking place at a location few outside of Qatar had heard of before people started looking at schedules and pinning up wallcharts. Not too many from Doha had had much reason to journey the 20km north to Lusail, either, until development plans for this residential, retail and leisure zone were announced in 2005.

Build it and they will come. First they came to motorcycle races at the Lusail International Circuit and, from 2021, to the Formula One Grand Prix there. Then they came the Lusail Sports Arena, venue for the 2015 World Handball Championships. 

Then, in April 2017, construction started on the 80,000-capacity Lusail Iconic Stadium, which will join a very select roster of arenas from Montevideo to Moscow once it puts on football’s grand showcase on December 18, Qatar National Day.

It hasn’t had much time to practise. After a 2020 opening date was pushed back and national friendlies cancelled, the authorities managed to arrange a Super Cup game here between the current champions of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Al Hilal and Zamalek, in September 2022. 

Only ten weeks after their win on penalties, several of that Saudi team now return to face Lionel Messi’s Argentina on November 22, the first of ten games in the World Cup schedule. Brazil play two group matches at Lusail, Portugal and Uruguay one against each other. These four leading Latin teams are likely to revisit the arena for a knock-out match, perhaps a quarter-final, a semi or even the ultimate occasion watched by billions.

The setting is appropriately dramatic. A glowing, golden bowl modelled on the traditional ones fashioned by generations of Arab craftsmen has been woven together by seemingly infinite triangular patterns. These allow thousands of threads of natural light to stab through the stadium façade and create constant

interaction between beams and shadows as spectators pass through the corridors. These shapes and rays take their lead from age-old Egyptian lanterns or fanous that have long illuminated façades across the Muslim world during the month of Ramadan. Fans enter halfway between the two main tiers of seating for the full sensurround effect of light, noise and colour.

The concept was developed by the UK’s Foster + Partners, which had put together a different Lusail stadium proposal as part of the portfolio that had helped win Qatar the World Cup bid in 2010. Fortune favours the brave, because in March 2015, it was announced that F + P’s radical new design for Qatar’s showcase stadium had beaten off strong competition from other big-name architects after the same prestigious commission. 

Getting the group back together that had worked on joint projects such as the new Wembley Stadium and the Millennium Bridge in London – structural engineers Arup and stadium architects Populous – the team at Foster + Partners also knew they were conceiving an arena with a short shelf life in its large-scale form.

For, much like most of the eight 2022 World Cup venues, the Lusail Iconic Stadium will be taken apart after the tournament. At least half of the 80,000 seats will be removed and a communal facility created. This also chimes with population estimates for surrounding Lusail itself, upwards of half a million, around a marina, islands of recreation and retail hubs. 

The promotional video for the stadium ends with a presentation at an auditorium dated 2030 – when every major sports venue in Qatar will be commandeered for the Asian Games – and underlining the multifunctionality of the golden bowl. A school has been mentioned, also a health clinic.

The roof, however, stays. A feat of engineering every bit as impressive as the bulbous shining dome that hangs precariously over visitors above the main entrance, a canopy extending a third of the way over the pitch is supported by a cat’s cradle of cables, removing the need for pillars and helping air circulate around the arena. 

Internal air-conditioning also ventilates, but with most games scheduled here for 10pm local time (the final is 8pm and the first game 1pm), things should be cooler than during that humid September evening for the curtain-raising Super Cup. 

The stadium, set in a large rectangle of pleasant greenery, is also quite close to the sea, where a string of man-made islands is being converted for leisure purposes.

At the far end of Qetaifan Island, a fan village will be the site of the main party zone for 2022, live music, DJs and a 4am closing time all promised throughout the month. Numbers will be limited to 30,000 and admission is by ticket only, so expect high demand come December 18.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The northern outpost on the red line of Doha’s metro network, Lusail metro station is close enough to the stadium area to allow the Last Mile walk to be taken directly from the terminus, with no need for shuttle buses. 

That Last Mile can feel like two, though, depending on which area of this vast bowl your seat is located. Stewarding, for September’s Super Cup game at least (attendance 77,575), was excellent, although if you can imagine the crowd pouring out after a big a game at Wembley, all heading for the one station, queuing post-match may take some time.

With eight of the ten games finishing around and perhaps well after midnight local time, it may be wise to pay a long-sleeved top of some kind as you will have been in an air-conditioned environment for several hours.

fixture list

The full schedule – who's playing and when

No other arena stages as many games during the World Cup as the Lusail Iconic Stadium, where the final, a semi-final and a quarter-final take place. Then again, no arena is anything like the size of this golden bowl of 80,000 capacity, which also hosts the pick of the group matches. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico all play here twice, Portugal face Uruguay, one of them possibly due to stay on as group winners. Dark horses Serbia debut here, World Cup legends Cameroon finish their group games, with Brazil the opponents both times.

November 22, 1pm: Argentina-Saudi Arabia (Group C)

November 24, 10pm: Brazil-Serbia (Group G)

November 26, 10pm: Argentina-Mexico (Group C)

November 28, 10pm: Portugal-Uruguay (Group H)

November 30, 10pm: Saudi Arabia-Mexico (Group C)

December 2, 10pm: Cameroon-Brazil (Group G)

December 6, 10pm: Round of 16, 1st Group H-2nd Group G

December 9, 10pm: QF, Winners match 49-Winners match 50

December 13, 10pm: SF, Winners match 57-Winners match 58

December 18, 6pm: FINAL

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