World Cup briefing: ‘Growing’ stadiums point to gap in enthusiasm

How big are Qatar’s World Cup stadiums? The answer is more complicated than you might think. The official guide to each of the eight venues – seven of them brand new – includes details on ground capacity.

Al Bayt, for example, is said to be able to hold 60,000 fans. When the stadium announcer hailed the turnout – 67,372 – during the opening game, some started scratching their heads. The trend continued the next day, with Senegal apparently attracting 41,721 players against the Netherlands, compared to a published maximum of 40,000 at Al Thumama Stadium.

So, what’s up? Organizers say the media and sponsors needed less space than expected. The figures in the official guide are a minimum number of places offered after deducting the areas reserved for journalists and executives from the actual total. So the capacities have increased because the media and sponsors didn’t take as many seats as expected.

Since then, Fifa has updated official capacity figures, with each venue’s total capacity increasing by more than 10 per cent.

One question that Fifa and Qatar organizers have yet to answer is why the official attendance numbers clash so much with the facts on the ground: there were thousands of empty seats at some of the first matches here. Empty seats were a feature of past World Cups – they also existed in Russia as tickets were not sold. But this time the official attendance figures are higher than the visual evidence, so unused tickets rather than unsold tickets seem to be the problem.

In Qatar, some of the no-shows will be sponsors who have decided to skip. Tickets will also be in the hands of local Qataris, some of whom may have simply chosen to ignore football after their side’s defeat on day one. Problems with the ticketing system have left many trapped outside stadiums and have also made it more difficult for those trying to resell or transfer unwanted tickets.

All things considered, at least in the tournament’s opening week, it all points to a generally muted enthusiasm. But Fifa need not worry. On Sunday, the Football Association announced that its Qatar 2022 World Cup earnings would total $7.5 billion – more than $1 billion more than Russia 2018 – thanks in large part to lucrative sponsorship deals with Qatari companies. Paying is more important than showing up.

Worth seeing: A first look at Neymar and the tournament favourites

Neymar, left, and Gabriel Jesus in training for Brazil

Neymar, left, and Gabriel Jesus in training for Brazil © Friedemann Vogel/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Neymar comes to Doha with high expectations. The 30-year-old superstar leads a talented Brazilian team going into the World Cup as Fifa favorites and leaders.

But the most fouled player in the top European leagues doesn’t just want to look for success – like the Brazilian strikers once did, he also wants to entertain and dazzle. Thursday night against Serbia we will finally see if Neymar – and Brazil – can live up to the pre-tournament hype.

Read Simon Kuper’s full profile here.

Game schedule for Thursday:

Switzerland – Cameroon 10:00 UK time/13:00 Doha time

Uruguay vs South Korea, 1pm UK time/4pm Doha time

Portugal vs Ghana 4pm UK time/7pm Doha time

Brazil vs Serbia, 7pm UK time/10pm Doha time

Highlight on Wednesday: Strolling Spain got involved

Dani Olmo (right) celebrates with his team mates after scoring Spain's opening goal

Dani Olmo (right) celebrates with his team-mates after scoring Spain’s opening goal © AP

The chatter about potential world champions prior to this week focused mainly on three sides: Brazil, Argentina and France. On Wednesday evening, Spain pushed its way onto the list.

Cantering past Costa Rica, Luis Enrique’s side played fluid, confident football. They scored seven points and could have scored more without ever breaking out of third gear. In the final minutes, the game almost looked like a practice game. Costa Rica never sniffed a goal.

Spain will be a strong opponent in Qatar.

Results from Wednesday:

Germany 1 Japan 2

Croatia 0 Morocco 0

Spain 7 Costa Rica 0

Belgium 1 Canada 0

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