Resort facilities

Inside England and USMNT World Cup training facilities in Qatar

After climbing the steps of Saud bin Abdulrahman Stadium to admire the pristine green turf, the prospect of playing football is decidedly unappealing. The sweltering heat makes it uncomfortable to stay outside for more than 10 or 15 minutes at the height of the day.

It’s here that England will train during the world Cup later this month.

With white buildings visible above the lower stands before disappearing into the desert mist and the call to prayer resounding as the clock strikes 4 p.m., the setting is a reminder that this World Cup will be very different.


Saud bin Abdulrahman Stadium

The contest in Qatar is plagued by controversy and human rights concernsas Athleticism explored during the visit of the eight stadiums of the country when preparing for the arrival of the world in town.

And after visiting the stadiums, Athleticism thought it was also worth visiting some of the World Cup training sites to better understand what the players might experience upon arrival.


When Athleticism visits in July, an empty car park surrounds the stadium where England will train. There are several food and drink outlets that are open despite the low crowds.

They cater to driving visitors who stop in their air-conditioned vehicles for a sandwich or an iced coffee in the heat of the day. A coffee stand is occupied by Filipino workers Cecile and Kane.

Kane, of course, shares his name with England captain Harry who will soon train on the pitch just behind his stand. Initially, she says she hasn’t heard of him, but after seeing a photo, she unconvincingly suggests that he might seem familiar to her. She is not a huge football fan, preferring basketball, like many of her compatriots.

The two women have no idea the England team will be coming here, but they recently watched a match at one of Qatar’s new stadiums after tournament organizers handed out free tickets to locals to test out the facilities.


Cecile and Kane work at a coffee stand near Saud bin Abdulrahman Stadium

Qataris are a small minority of the population of a country that has imported massive labor in recent years to prepare for the World Cup. As daunting as the transformation is, it comes at a human cost. Migrant workers from many countries have been exploited, injured and, in the worst cases, lost their lives.

Saud bin Abdulrahman Stadium is not one of the new developments, but an older, smaller facility. It is usually home to Al Wakrah SC, who finished third in the Qatar Stars League last season and won it in 1999 and 2001.

Few of the team’s current players will be familiar outside the Middle East, but former stars include World Cup winner Frank Leboeuf, who played 10 games for the club in 2004-05; former Premier League players Youssef Chippo and Alain Goma; and fellow striker Alan Waddle, cousin of the England legend Chriswho made a brief stint here in 1986.

The site has training facilities and a gymnasium. There is a foosball table in the hallways. There’s also a canteen with plastic chairs and garish wallpaper with a large screen that could soon be used for tactical instruction.


The establishment is equipped with table football.

The big screen in the canteen

All very nice, but not luxurious, and will be far from the facilities of premier league clubs, although things may look very different now compared to the summer when there was still construction going on.


Qatar is just 100 miles from top to bottom, making it by far the smallest country to ever host a World Cup.

The vast majority of the population lives in the capital Doha, with seven of the eight stadiums accessible on the Doha Metro system. The eighth, Al Bayt, is just a 25-minute drive from the nearest metro station.

All but two World Cup teams will be based in and around Doha.

An exception to the Doha cluster is Germany. The 2014 winners are heading to the Zulal Wellness Resort at the northern tip of the country, an 80-minute drive north of the capital.

Belgium were initially envious of their European rival’s training camp, thinking it best to travel a bit further for each game in favor of a combined hotel and training base.

Roberto Martinez’s side finally found another option at the Hilton Salwa in the southwestern region of the country, a short distance from Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia, a country that has also qualified for the tournament. .

Bases were assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, and each training base and hotel had to be approved by Fifaindependent monitoring service.

Teams were asked to provide the first, second and third options, and whoever requested the first option first and qualified the fastest was awarded their pick.

That doesn’t rule out last-minute chaos — in 2018, Brazil changed his mind a week ago. That didn’t help them, crashing 2-1 to Belgium in the quarter-finals, four years after the humiliating 7-1 home loss to Germany in the semi-finals.

Each federation has a different thought process – whether it’s cost, how close the city is to space, or even superstition – some nations won’t state their preferred base before qualify in case they “lose” it.


Getting away from the hustle and bustle of central Doha appeals to some.

This is particularly the case of the hotel of the England team, the Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar by Tivoli, located on the edge of the Persian Gulf, a few minutes by car from the stadium where they will train.

When Athleticism visits, we are welcomed inside by the staff and can take photos despite an unexpected appearance.

The venue is luxurious with separate low-rise pavilions giving players plenty of space to relax between training sessions and matches.


The luxury World Cup hotel in England

There are wellness rooms, a well-equipped gym and the hotel opens directly onto a wonderful sandy beach. Fans hope to share breakfast with Harry Kane Where Rahim Sterling will be disappointed – the rooms have not been available for booking for months.


The beach just outside the England World Cup hotel

It is a “dry” hotel. The subject of alcohol was constantly debated in the run-up to the tournament, with numerous restrictions governing its sale in Qatar.

Those who want a drink won’t find it impossible but things will be different from other tournaments. Alcohol is readily available in hotel bars but not served outside, for example in restaurants or at the airport. There will be a fan zone in the center of Bidda Park where alcohol will be served, but at limited times.


Inside the England team hotel for the World Cup

Even in this relaxed and glamorous setting, it’s hard to escape the big questions hanging over this World Cup – an investigation by the Guardian earlier this year found that security guards working in Doha had paid extortionate recruitment and worked 12-hour shifts for just £1 ($1.18) an hour.


Half an hour’s drive north, on the other side of Doha’s suburbs, is another stadium; this one a little bigger but looking quite similar from the outside to the one where England will train.

With SUVs pulling up for an iced coffee at the wheel, wide highways stretching into the desert, and sweltering summer heat, the western outskirts of Doha feel a bit like the dusty Southwest of the United States.

If you squint and ignore the mosques, plus the Arabic and English signs, you could be in Arizona.

Thani bin Jassim Stadium is where the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) will train before facing WalesEngland and Iran in group B


Thani bin Jassim Stadium, USMNT training base

The stadium is usually home to Al-Gharafa, another Qatar Stars League team with an illustrious past, winning seven league titles, but not since 2010. Famous names who have played for the club include the 1998 World Cup winner , Marcel Desailly, Dutch star Wesley Sneijder. and Costa Rican legend Paulo Wanchope. Current players include Gabriel Pires, on loan from Benfica, and Jonathan Kodjia, formerly of AstonVilla and the city of Bristol.

The stadium will likely be heavily guarded when the USMNT arrives, but in July it’s easy to get off the streets, uninvited and unannounced, and look around the stadium and its buildings.

Although the Middle East is in constant turmoil, Qatar is a generally safe country and the US military has its largest regional military presence at the sprawling Al Udeid airbase just 30 minutes from the stadium.

There is an indoor sports center on the same site and facilities include a large gym (above), offices and rest areas. There is also a tactical board with rows of chairs from which players can listen to instructions from coach Gregg Berhalter. With marble floors and plenty of space inside, the surroundings are decidedly grander than Al Wakrah’s, although the medical room needed some work in July.


The stadium medical room was incomplete when The Athletic visited in July

Just north of Doha is Lusail, a “planned city” mapped out and built over the past two decades, with a dramatic skyline worthy of a sci-fi movie.

The stop before Lusail on the brilliant Doha Metro is Qatar University.

Visiting in the height of summer, there is hardly anyone here and the car parks are empty under the elevated railway tracks towards Doha as well as the new Lusail Stadium.

The university is huge and the facilities are new and shiny, although this time a security guard does not let Athleticism roam freely in the indoor facilities.

This odd site will soon be home to arguably the world’s greatest footballer, as an Argentinian side led by Lionel Messi will be based here for the tournament. Two other teams due to face each other at the commercial end of the tournament, Spain and the Netherlands, will also be based here, but will train on different grounds.

The complex is large, so there will be room for all three players to practice without getting in each other’s way or hearing tactical instructions.


One of Qatar University’s training grounds

These locations will likely all be under tight security during the tournament itself to keep curious fans from disturbing their heroes as they prepare for some of the biggest moments of their lives.

It is difficult to predict which stadium, seaside hotel or university campus will be known to audiences around the world.

But when hundreds of the world’s best footballers flock to this mid-sized city, we’re sure to see drama behind the scenes at the training facilities as well as on the pitch.

(Top photo: Simon Holmes/NurPhoto via Getty Images)