•Inside University City Stadium in Nigerian colours.
The stands and seats are all in Nigerian green and
white colours. A home for Eagles in 2022 World Cup?

…Presents’ Nigeria’s Eagles a home in Al Rayyan

By Onochie Anibeze

A trip to the Education City in the Al Ryann area of Qatar is mind-blowing.

The things you see are so amazing  and petrifying.

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You admire the beauty of a city, the commitment of a people, you appreciate their leadership, good governance and all the qualities that make them special. The next, you begin to think about your country, how unlucky your people have been from colonial times till date and you are full of anger. No, thoughts about home must not spoil your day. It’s not about home.

You look through the window as the bus travels from  your City Centre Hotel Continental. The alluring aesthetics of structures, the landscaping and lawns thaw you. You forget home, at least momentarily,  and try to savour the moment. The bus pulls up on getting to  your destination.

Journalists from all over the world alight and are briefly addressed on the tour. Seconds after, something pleasantly surprises you.

Jassim Telafat is the Executive Director of the Education City Stadium, one of the magnificent facilities Qatar is presenting for the 2022 World Cup. The tour is to inspect the stadium, ask questions or raise issues that could guide the World Cup hosts. Journalists with experience are on tour.

The stadium is built in the university city and that informs the name. With other facilities for basketball ball,  volleyball, handball, track and field and wide lawns and tracks for pedestrian and bicycle movements, the legacy is also meant to serve the community after the World Cup  tournament.

‘This place is designed to host events, parties, weddings, shows and anything that promotes mankind,’ Telafat says, adding, ‘it’s a 40,000 capacity stadium that will be reduced to 20,000 after the World Cup.’

Qatar, while bidding to host the World Cup, had promised to build stadiums that could be collapsed and parts of them donated to developing countries.

Parts of the Education City Stadium will be given out. With a population of 2.6 million people, Qatar, after the World Cup, may not need the huge structures they are putting in place now. Now, the surprise.

Jassim Telafat leads us into the stadium and Nigeria strikes you in the face. Wow. You think home and you look around again in admiration. Are you in Nigeria? Certainly not. But what’s happening? What a coincidence. Every stadium here has history behind it. What has Nigeria got to do with University City Stadium?

The colours are Nigeria’s green and white. The seats and stands are in Nigerian colours. What a pleasant surprise. Your mind goes back home to the Eagles. What if they qualify for 2022 World Cup and are drawn to play here? The atmosphere here could boost their psyche. Inside,  the University Stadium is painted in Nigerian colours. It’s all Nigeria. Seats and stands adorn Nigerian colours. The Eagles must qualify and play here, you say.

Whether our fans are many or not, the colours here are Nigerian. Unknowingly, Qatar is presenting Nigeria here. They are presenting us a home here. Good feeling for me as I look around in admiration. ‘You people should qualify and make here your home,’ Foussena Djagba, from Ghana tells me. The facilities in the stadium are amazing.

I have news for Chidi Ngoka, the Super Eagles curator. When Eagles play here, he would no longer need a small space in the dressing room to arrange the kits. He will now have a beautiful office close to the dressing room. The dressing rooms here are classy with jacuzzi, pools, showers. There are prayer rooms, massage rooms, steam and Sauner rooms. The Press Conference room and Mixed Zones are such that Fifa’s Fedrico Addieco says Qatar has surpassed the required standards in all the stadiums. He is right. There are innovations.

Each corner or players’ rows have safes for valuables. Besides dressing rooms are long warm-up rooms with artificial turfs. The warm-up rooms are big enough to serve the players. This is new.

Muneer Al Jaber, a young woman who is the project manager at the stadium takes over from where Telafat stops and leads us to level 5 of the stadium where the Hospitality Boxes, Sky and Studio Boxes with the VIP lounge dazzle the visitors, some of who begin to wonder about the level Qatar is taking the provision of facilities to.

Are they doing this for people out of this world? Telafat surprises us before we leave. At the Conference hall he asks us to sit, facing the table meant for the coaches and players in a typical press conference style. He selects yours sincerely to mimic a coach addressing the media and fielding questions after a World Cup match.

He asks why my team played well in the first half but lost the match in the second. He also asks me about my impression on the facilities we have seen today. On the match I say some technical things that impress my colleagues. I defend my players generally, although pointing the weak link that cost us the match and promising to work on the flaws and hoping to qualify to next round!  On the facilities I rate them simply as amazing. Applause follows.

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‘We’ll do it our own way,’ England said of the 2012 Olympic Games after watching the stupendous things Beijing put in place for the 2008 Games, especially the opening ceremony where they made science and technology to speak to us.

They did not need to match China and informed all ahead of time that they would do it their own way.

I guess that’s what the hosts of the 2026 World Cup would also say after the experience of 2022 here in Qatar.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery will be proud of what his country is delivering to the world for the World Cup and generations unborn in Qatar and the region.

December 16 , Al Janoub Stadium

What Abdulaziz Ishaq lacks in height he makes up with his long white beards that distinguish him in any crowd. His carriage, humour, warmth add to his personality. He welcomes us to this stadium where science and technology flourish with tradition and culture. Ishaq is friendly, crackes jokes and regales us with pleasant stories of the people.

Al Wukrah, originally was largely known for fishing. Al Janoub Stadium is in Al Wukrah. It is also called Al Wukrah Stadium. It’s in the fisherman’s community.

It’s therefore not out of place that the stadium is designed after traditional  dhow boat. Zaha Hadid, a female Iraqi-British architect did the beautiful job before she passed on. May her soul rest in peace.

The stadium has a 92m retractable roof. It  is  the first stadium built from the scratch for the 2022 World Cup to be completed. It was opened in May when it hosted the Amir Cup final.

The cooling technology is state-of-the-art.

‘This is about engineering and science serving sports,’ Saud Ghani, professor of engineering at the Qatar University says proudly of the construction at Al Wukrah. He had hand in the construction.

Al janoub is a 40,000 capacity stadium that will be reduced to 20,000 at the end of the World Cup. The parts will be donated to developing countries. I hope Nigeria benefits. Incidentally, the world sees us as country with huge potential but ravaged by their leaders. This explains why we hardly attract sympathy from great nations whose success stories we celebrate. I digressed.

Traditional fisherman’s music is blaring as the inspection goes on. Fine Arab music that can change your steps in unison with the rhythms. ‘It’s about thermal comfort,’ Ghani, the engineering professor tells us. ‘It’s 100 percent air-conditioned stadium. The cooling system is controlled to adjust to weather. It adjusts to what the weather reads and begins to serve its purpose automatically.’

The visitors are looking at each other in wonderment. He continues. ‘The air you breathe here is the purest. The cooling system also purifies the air. It reacts to humidity too, so you are talking about cooling, purification and humidity control. The system is meant to serve the players, the spectators and the grass on the pitch.’ The visitors are smiling. If that doesn’t wow you, what would?

‘It’s all about legacy,’ the university professor says as we round off the trip to Al Wukrah.

Qatar had promised to build stadiums with cooling technology for the 2022 World Cup because of the heat during summer. Fifa has moved the 2022 World Cup to November/December but that has not stopped them from providing the cooling technology in their stadiums.

December 17: Road leads to Al Bayt, a home in a stadium

The drive from Intercontinental Hotel, City Centre, is about one hour.

It’s a drive to what ordinarily should be a desert. But Qatar’s Vision 2030 is about transforming the already beautiful country and further enhancing the dignity of its people. It’s about making Qatar a destination point not only in the Arab world but also in the entire world.

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It’s called Vision 2030 but it goes beyond 2030. It’s about great legacies for the future generations. The 2022 World Cup is just one of the fast tracks to achieving the lofty objectives of Vision 2030.

So, this seemingly ordinary desert city has been made extraordinary by 2022 World Cup constructions. What we are seeing here today underscores what our own Segun Odegbami has been preaching for years now – that sports provides the fastest tool to development. Odegbami knows that we don’t have the facilities to host the World Cup or Commonwealth Games or the Olympics. But he campaigns for joint or regional hosting, knowing that it’s probably the only thing that can compel our governments to construct rail lines, develop other infrastructure and build facilities that could serve future generations.

Al Bayt, with its tent design, portrays a home of Al Khor people. It’s unique, representing Qatar’s rich culture and history. The 60,000 capacity stadium  will be the  second biggest after Lusail that is still under construction. The Legacy  Rooms are uniquely furnished to make you feel as comfortable as a home could offer. You have beds in them, so an occupant of a Legacy  Room which is part of the hospitality boxes, can relax on a bed at half time or before or after a match.

This is luxury in a football arena. The pictures of the stadium say it all. The dressing room is simply amazing. Mohamed Ahmed takes us around and foreign journalists from Europe and America are shaking their heads. Take this. This stadium has a VIP park that can accommodate 10,000 cars, it has six restaurants, five coffee shops, a mall, one hospital, a hotel and a police station. It’s on 400,000m landscape. This stadium is  a  sports village or rather a city on it’s own. ‘We started this project in 2014 and here we are,’ Ahmed says, adding ‘the cooling technology is the most sustainable in the world, the lighting is the most advanced in the world.’

Lusail Stadium that will host the opening and final matches is another wonder to behold even as it is still under construction. In local parlance, katakata means confusion in either positive or negative context. Qatar people are causing katakata with the facilities they are presenting for the 2022 World cup. Their hotels that will accommodate fans and teams; metro lines that will aide transportation and facilitate fans watching two matches in a day; the stadiums  that will host the matches and the hospitality of the people are all geared towards making history in 2022. The world can’t wait to be here. Qatar is  katakata  with their facilities.

ESPERANCE:  A flash back to 1987 scene against Abiola

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I was a junior reporter, on freelance, when Femi Ojo of blessed memory included my name on Abiola Babes’ list to Tunisia to play Esperance in the African Cup of Champions match. The first leg had ended goalless in Nigeria. It was memorable for me because it was my first trip outside Nigeria. And in that trip I visited three countries. We passed through Italy as we flew Alitalia on our way to Tunisia and spent a night in London on our return. Alitalia had gone on strike and Moshood Kashimawo Abiola would not allow us stay endlessly at the airport. He was on the trip. His wife, Symbiat and son Kola were on that trip too. Abiola was that committed to sports. He bought British Airways tickets for us to return home.

On our flight to Rome, I sat close to him. I never knew he knew me, having met him only once before the trip. A group of journalists interviewed him after a match in Lagos and I was among them. They said Abiola needed to meet you only once to recognise you anywhere. He proved it on that trip. The team doctor had fever on board and Abiola joked ‘if the team doctor is sick, oya, let the journalist (pointing at me) treat him.’ Everybody laughed. I was surprised he recognised me.

The match in Tunisia was not a pleasant experience for us all. It was in the days we had great talents but who were unprofessional. Abiola Babes had super stars but many lacked discipline. Abiola found out that some players had broken camp and even joined the team on the day we travelled. Those were the days players from Benin held sway and were among the super stars in our league. They were good but they could disappoint you. After every game, most of them returned to a joint in Benin from their various clubs. It was just a social gathering that so mattered to them they could elope at the expense of club success. They were the big names in clubs and national team.

They tagged them the Benin Mafia then. We lost 1-0 in Tunisia and Abiola disbanded the club right there in Tunisia. Abiola was a true sportsman. He did not disband the club because we lost the match. He disbanded the club because he felt the players were not professional enough and that it didn’t make sense spending so much on players who lacked the commitment required of professionals. He heard how some players joined the team at the airport and kept calm until they lost the match.

‘You did not lose because they were better. You lost because some of you lacked fitness. It showed in the game,’ Abiola said as he announced the disbandment of the team. No internet then and my presence in Tunisia was hugely beneficial to Vanguard. Ikeddy Isiguzo, then sports editor, celebrated my stories.

As bad as it was Esperance needed a controversial penalty to win, 1-0. Abiola Babes were dogged. Coach Femi Ojo had planned well but towards the end of the game the players were truly losing gas. But what inspired Esperance most was the cheering by their fans.

I had never seen a thing like that in my life. The noise could unnerve anybody. And it was non-stop. ‘Allez o, allez oo,’ they sang, making bonfires, drumming and booing every move of Abiola Babes. Abiola knew that he had the players, the team to deal with Esperance and punish them but he was disappointed that they lost to indiscipline and not to a better team. He was so angry he acted immediately.

My memory flashed back to that day in Tunisia when I saw fans of Esperance . If cheering wins games they would be in the final here in Qatar in the Club World Cup that ends today. When they played Al Hilal, the Asian champions who are from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, they outnumbered those who were supposedly playing at home.

They brought to Qatar what Brazilians and some crazy football nations display to the world. They demonstrated their passion on the streets, singing and dancing to the stadium, creating scenes outside and inside the stadium.

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They had seats in their stand in the stadium but they stood throughout, singing loudly and pointing to the goal of the opponents as if they were conjuring some magic that could send the ball into the goal. Some people had the misfortune and being assigned seats behind them. They blocked their views as they stood throughout, cheering even when they were down.

They were a scene to behold. Just like in 1987 against Abiola Babes, their players were not fantastic, they were having a fairly good game but the cheers, the noise, the flares from their fans were so intimidating that you wondered what they were made of. Al Hilal were making incursions into their goal area and Esperance fans were shouting them down. And when Esperance were attacking they turned the stands into moving ‘spirits’. It was a spectacle. Abiola Babes experienced this and suffered from it in 1987. Iwauanyanwu Nationale went through it some years later. But Clemens Westerhof was asked to assist them. That was when we had a coach who loved Nigeria and its people. I was in Tunisia to cover the match too. He took over tactical approach.

The match in Lagos ended goalless. Nationale coach had said that ‘we would play as if we lost in Lagos. We’ll attack from the first minute. It is massive attack and massive defence, all through.’. The coach was responding to Westerhof’s question on how he intended to approach the match. Hear Westerhof as he moved to the board to draw formation and unfold the tactical approach he felt would serve. ‘We attack here, we are down in the first half. When you attacked in Lagos, how many you score?. The first 15 minutes, I tell you, they are coming like Cheetah. Papapapaa, they are coming, I tell you.

We try to close the game. After 15 to 20 minutes they don’t score, they will get frustrated and begin to show it. I know North Africans. Arabs are like that. If it’s not going their way you see anger and frustration. They are human beings. After 15 to 20 minutes, they are going down, energy is going. Then we can attack. We attack for five to 10 minutes and we close the game again for the rest time of the half. We must play in segments, not attack and attack. You attack here you are down, I tell you.’ Westerhof then went on to map out the runs he expected from the players, how to close the game and only go on the counter when there was an opening.

The game went on exactly as he previewed except that in the last minute of the first half Esperance scored through a penalty. Esperance are like defunct Nigeria’s Stationery Stores. They intimidate referees too. At half time, Nationale officials were panicking.

They were jittery. Westerhof was different. In the dressing room, he spent more time commending the boys, telling them that they were brilliant and had executed the game plan very well. He told them he was expecting the penalty. The second half would be in segments too. He said Esperance would be inspired by that goal and would attack in the early minutes of the second half. Nationale must close the game, attack only after 15 minutes and close the game again and then attack in the last ten minutes. When, in a counter attack, Tony Ezugha scored a brilliant goal without any body contact the referee did not blow.

He started running to the linesman to confirm but the assistant referee, as they are called now had lowered his head and was running to the centre. The goal stood and the stadium died. Nationale were given two red cards in the last moments but they closed the game well and Esperance were out. Ransom Madu kept on lamenting his red card until we returned home. He charged on a player but did not make any body contact, he did not fowl him. The player lost possession and then came the red card.

It was a terrible officiating but Nationale were through. Westerhof donated his match bonus to the players for making him proud and retired to Holland on holiday while Nationale players returned home, praising him till the club also expired like Abiola Babes. Esperance re-enacted the scenes they were and still known for here in Qatar. The passion they displayed here when they played Al Hilal was tremendous. Their fans play for them always.

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They lifted their game against Al Sadd, winning 6-2 in the match for the 5th  place although many had returned home. Their fans made a mark here. Qatar are hoping that Tunisia qualify for 2022 World Cup, knowing that the Africans will surely add colour to the fiesta. Their passion will matter. It has won them a place in the hearts of the people here.

See photos below:

•Inside University City Stadium in Nigerian colours.
The stands and seats are all in Nigerian green and
white colours. A home for Eagles in 2022 World Cup?

Vanguard

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.