Less than three hours before kick-off, the fan zone and stadium in which England will face off against Iran appears empty. The Three Lions will play their first match of the tournament in the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha at 1pm GMT today.
Fewer England fans have been expected to turn up to this year’s World Cup, which takes place in Qatar in the winter.
The host nation has faced concerns about its track record on human rights, and many visitors have been unable to quench their thirst in the heat by the Gulf nation’s last-minute U-turn banning the sale of beer in the grounds.
The World Cup has already courted controversy over allegations as to how an effective city state won its bid without the infrastructure needed to host the game.
Qatar has built several new stadiums and a metro system to host the tournament, but has been dogged by claims of migrant worker deaths and poor treatment.
Just hours before the first England match, there remains a question mark over possible sanctions Gareth Southgate’s side may face from governing body FIFA over captain Harry Kane’s desire to wear the One Love armband in support of LGBT people.
Mark Bullingham, chief executive of the Football Association, said there are “discussions going on” over whether the English and Welsh captains will be able to wear it and still be able to walk onto the pitch. Male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.
Speaking to our reporter in Doha, Mark Berry, from Essex, commented: “The stadiums are lovely. However, I think it’s wrong that alcohol won’t be sold at the stadiums. It shouldn’t be held in a country were they have laws like that.
“There are people from different countries and it should be open to everybody.”
“It shouldn’t be like this. I cannot have a drink, but I would like to have the opportunity.
“Drinking is linked with football. Everywhere else I’ve been in the world for the World Cup, alcohol was never a problem.”
He said he had only flown in that morning from Dubai, and would not be staying in Doha. Mr Berry added: “Getting to the stadium was fairly okay. It’s not very car friendly.
“There’s nothing around the stadium to do. I haven’t been to any of the fan zones. I won’t be staying in Doha, I’m only here for the game and I’ll do a few of them.”
Alan Slater, 67, from Preston, said: “It’s what I expected it to be really – you knew before you came it was going to be dear. I’m a bit disappointed the fan zones aren’t open all day.”
The lack of alcoholic refreshments is causing fans to reassess their plans for pre-drinks, with some suggesting it was the reason behind the empty hospitality areas.
Maxi Sterritt, 63, also from Preston, said: “The only thing is finding somewhere for a drink; we’re struggling for that.”
Mr Slater said their original plan had been to go to the fan zone at the ground before and after the game, adding: “It’s not just us, it’s every fan you talk to from all over – everybody wants a drink.”
Last week, FIFA said that England ranked fourth in terms of the number of World Cup tickets it had sold. The organisation hopes to shift three million tickets for the event.
However, today’s scenes paint a somewhat different picture in terms of turnout.
The first game of the tournament, held yesterday afternoon – which pitted Qatar against Ecuador in a 2-0 defeat for the host nation – saw stands empty at half time, as many local supporters chose to go home early than watch their team lose.
More to follow…