DOHA, Qatar — Covering the 2022 FIFA World Cup is a dream come true.
My obsession with the tournament started in 1982, watching Brazil breeze through the first round of the tournament in Spain, before they were eliminated by eventual champions Italy.
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I still have that Brazil, Italy game on tape, and consider it one of my most prized possessions.
Four years later, I remember racing home from school to record Canada play at its first World Cup, so my father could watch the game when he got home from work. Canada didn’t win a game or score a goal in at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but I was convinced they would be back and would be better the next time.
Well, it only took 36 years, and I’m fortunate to have turned my passion of sports into a career. As the national soccer columnist for Postmedia, I have the opportunity to watch Canada play at a World Cup again, this time on the ground here in Doha.
It’s an assignment of a lifetime and I’m happy to document my daily adventures in Qatar following Canada, and staying through the entire tournament as history is made in many forms at the event; being held for the first time in an Arab country and taking place in November.
I invite everyone to follow along on in the journey.
WORLD CUP DIARY
Day 1 (Nov. 14)
MUNICH, Germany — My journey to the 2022 FIFA World Cup has begun.
Piggybacking off an Edmonton Oilers four-game road trip, which ended in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I travelled to Toronto to begin my adventures.
From Toronto, my first stop was Munich, where I had a 10-hour layover heading towards Doha, Qatar. The layover allowed me to catch up on some sleep, which I didn’t get much on the eight-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Perhaps it was my difficulty sleeping on planes, or the excitement of covering a men’s World Cup featuring Canada that kept me away, I was a little sleep deprived when I arrived in the city where Alphonso Davies plays his club soccer.
The next leg of my journey will take me to Cairo, Egypt and from there I will catch a flight to Doha, where I will hit the ground running. I will be picking up my press credentials and then catching up with Canada, who play an exhibition game across the Persian Gulf in Dubai, UEA against Japan on Thursday.
Day 2 (Nov. 15)
DOHA, Qatar — I’ve made to Qatar for the World Cup.
It was an arduous journey, which started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the end of a road trip with the Edmonton Oilers.
I boarded a flight from Munich after a 10-hour layover, to Cairo, Egypt, and arrived at 2 a.m. The airport in Cairo was quiet at that time and I had to wait three hours before able check in for my final flight to Qatar.
If flying most airlines is controlled chaos, then Egyptair was complete chaos as everyone scrambled to get to the front of the line to get into the general waiting area. It was there where we had to go through security, women in one line, men in another. That’s the first time I got a sense the rules were much different than from where I come from.
Boarding the flight, was also first come, first shove to the front of the line. They just opened the doors and told everyone to get on the plane, no messing around with zones.
I eventually made it to my seat where I sat beside a young boy and his mother. The boy asked why I was going to Doha, and I told him it was for the World Cup. He said he wasn’t all that interested because Mohamed Salah was not playing as Egypt had not qualified, but he did like Cristiano Ronaldo.
As a Liverpool fan, I told him Salah was one of my favourite players, which made him smile.
In Doha, things were extremely organized. I breezed through customs and went to meet up with a friend from Edmonton who will be my host for the next month. We both went to the same high school, although I was a few years ago. Surprisingly, I know four people in Doha and was able to connect with all of them.
Day 3 (Nov. 16)
Made the trip to the Qatar National Convention Centre, which is serving as the main media centre for the tournament.
The main working area is massive as hundreds of journalists from around the world will descend on it over the next month. I was able to get a good lay of the land and figure out the way to get to the respective stadiums. They also have a cafeteria on the main level and a large media conference theatre where FIFA will hold most of its media conference.
This will be my home for the next month.
Canada travelled to Dubai, but I was unable to find an affordable flight across the Persian Gulf for a day trip, so decided to stay in Doha and wait for the team to return.
So far, everything has gone well. All the volunteers here are extremely friendly and everyone speaks English. It’s obvious they want to make a good impression on the thousands of people travelling here for the first time.
Tomorrow, I’ll try and head downtown before coming down to the media centre and get a feel for the excitement around the city.
Day 4 (Nov. 17)
DOHA, Qatar — Downtown Doha is impressive.
Enormous skyscrapers populate the area, which is teaming with volunteers to help visitors get around.
The Qatar government invested a reported $200 billion into the tournament and they want to get its money’s worth.
If anything, Qatar appears well prepared for the tournament, which couldn’t be said for the last World Cup I attended in Brazil, where they were still installing seats in the stadium hours before kickoff.
The subway system is amazing and with just three lines covering the entire city very easy to navigate. The stations are all staffed with volunteers helping find your way.
I returned to the media centre in time to watch Canada defeat Japan 2-1, which should give the team confidence heading into its first game of the tournament on Wednesday. Canada will return to Doha tomorrow and get on the field this weekend to resume training for its first World Cup game in 36 years.
Day 5 (Nov. 18)
Had an opportunity to talk to some referees working the tournament.
This is the only day FIFA makes the referees available to speak to the media, and hundreds of journalists from all over the world went down to the Qatar Sports Club in the morning.
Everyone wanted to speak to two of the three female referees selected to take part. It’s the first time female officials will work a men’s World Cup.
Stephanie Frappart of France, Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda, and Yoshimi Yamashita of Japan will break new ground by being the first females to referee a game a the men’s World Cup. American Kathryn Nesbitt is one of three women to work as an assistant referee at the tournament.
Frappart was not made available, but I did get a chance to catch up to Nesbitt.
Drew Fischer of Calgary is the only Canadian official here and he will be working in the Video Assistant Referee both. My phone shut down because it was so hot, hovering at 35 C. Good thing those stadiums are air conditioned. I was told by a local driver, it gets up to 50 C in the summer, which is why the tournament had to be moved to November.
From the Qatar Sport Club, it was back to the main media centre at the QNCC as they refer to it here. I’m heading to Croatia’s practice later in the day to ask what they think of Canada. Luka Modric blew me off in Austria a couple of months ago when I asked him a question in the mixed zone after a UEFA Nations League game against the host country.