The past few days have seen the football world focused on the Middle East and the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020. As fans around the globe have tuned into the action, they have been introduced to two FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 venues.
Alongside Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Education City Stadium has been front and centre, while the world's top clubs have battled it out for the prestigious title. As anticipation builds for the tournament's final matchday on 11 February, the 'Diamond in the Desert' is ready to showcase an exciting conclusion to the week-long event by staging the third-place play-off between Al Ahly SC and SE Palmeiras and the final between FC Bayern Munchen and Tigres UANL.
The 40,000-capacity venue was tasked with staging four matches over three match days at the Club World Cup. On Thursday, 4 February, reigning Qatar Stars League champions Al Duhail SC took on Egyptian giants and CAF Champions League holders Al Ahly SC in a second-round clash. On Sunday, 7 February, Education City played host to recently-crowned CONMEBOL Libertadores champions SE Palmeiras in the competition's first semi-final, as they faced CONCACAF Champions League holders Tigres UANL.
Those match days have given worldwide exposure to Education City and are the latest milestones for a venue that is a source of pride for those closely connected to it. "I recall Education City Stadium as a huge hole in the ground in 2014, and I often catch myself overwhelmed to see how quickly this excavation became a huge diamond located in the middle of universities and schools in Education City," said Engineer Muneera Al Jabir, Education City Stadium's Precinct Manager.
"Every now and then, when I stand in the middle of the pitch, and look around at the beautiful infrastructure, and all the details from the colour of the spectators' seats to the quality of the grass, I cannot help but feel pure pride as well as gratification to see that all our hard work has paid off."
Since being inaugurated last June as the third tournament-ready venue for Qatar 2022, Education City has been put to good use, as Qatar stepped up to provide a centralised hub for football competitions to complete their schedules in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Top of that list was the 2020 AFC Champions League, as the venue hosted a total of 23 matches. This included ten games in the West Region section and 13 matches in the East Region portion of Asia's top club competition. Staging these matches provided valuable feedback.
"We learned many lessons that helped us to test the venue and readiness of the systems and the facilities to host such events," said Al Jabir. "The AFC Champions League was an opportunity for us to know more about the operation of the stadium and how it could be improved from different aspects."
Hosting a large number of high-level matches provided some maintenance challenges for the stadium staff. "The challenges were mainly related to the COVID-19 precautions and safety of the people participating and working in the stadium. The stadium had three rounds of disinfection per match day for facilities like the press conference room, players' bench areas and competition and bubble area," Al Jabir said.
"The pitch maintenance was another challenge, since the stadium hosted 13 matches over seven days. The utilisation of the pitch was high, which led to wear on the field of play, particularly in the warm-up and goal areas. Thankfully, the team was monitoring this closely and managed to have the turf restored and promptly replaced where necessary to maintain the required playing conditions."
Located 13km from Doha city centre and at the heart of Qatar Foundation - a vibrant centre for knowledge and innovation fans that have attended Club World Cup matches have enjoyed the venue's accessible nature, especially via the Doha Metro's Green Line, with Education City station situated within walking distance of this ultramodern arena. It is also a lasting symbol of sustainability after becoming the first Qatar 2022 tournament venue to receive a five-star rating from the Global Sustainability Assessment System.
"The stadium is equipped with premium facilities to accommodate all stakeholders from match audiences to football players," Al Jabir added. "For example, the stadium can host more than one football match per day. It is equipped with four dressing rooms instead of the standard two dressing rooms option found in other stadiums. It also has a cooling system in the bowl and the spectators' tiers, making the experience more comfortable, especially during summer."
Set to host eight matches up to the quarter-finals stage during Qatar 2022, Education City is ready to welcome the world when football's showpiece event takes place in less than two years' time. For Al Jabir, the Club World Cup is another key moment for a venue project she has been part of from the beginning.
"Attending an official match in the stadium and seeing it operational with live broadcasting on international television makes me feel proud and confident with our readiness to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, which always motivates us to look for the best to ensure we provide an unforgettable experience of the matches that will be hosted in our stadiums in 2022."
Cover image credit: Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy
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