The geography shifts abruptly as you walk from Bin Mansoura Metro Station to Grand Hamad Stadium. The skyscrapers of central Doha fade in the distance, minarets pierce the cloudless skies. The bristle of the city drowns in the suffocating quiet of the neighborhood, but for the tyre-screech of luxury cars that blurs through the near-empty road.
Just 20 kilometers off Corniche it seems further distant from the endless bustle of the World Cup-soaked Doha. From nowhere manifests the undecorated facade of the stadium, once Doha’s premier stadium and home to the Al-Arabi Sports Club, but now slumbering in the past glories, unstained by uber-modernity.
For the last one week, though, the calm has been shaken off. Swathes of policemen in black jackets and caps with slick automatics tucked in their waistbands prowl the locale. The beep of sirens intrude the quietude. On those days, an army of men and women in the yellow and green flock to the ground, as though for a pilgrimage.
Some of the shopkeepers were initially puzzled before they were told that the venue would be Brazil’s training ground for the World Cup. The Stadium and locality was paint-brushed a fresh identity: Brazil’s training ground, an address that would be tattooed forever.
It’s a good 30-minute walk for the fans. But that has not deterred their enthusiasm. “It’s far from where we are staying, we are allowed to watch the practice, but we will always be there,” says Felipe, who is from Sao Paulo. What surprised him and his friend Louise was the presence of non-Brazilian fans. “I never thought we had so many supporters in Asia. It’s overwhelming. On the first day, there was a two-kilometre long queue from the metro to the stadium. It was almost like we were at home,” he adds.
With drums and whistles, cutouts and flags, a river of yellow floods the road whenever they train. “People jumping and running behind the bus,” says Luciano Fontes of the media outlet Zero Fora. The enclosure for the press to watch the practice too was crowded, and apart from home-press, the rest were allotted a specific time to watch the practice.
The interiors of the stadium too have a Brazilian vibe. “There were miniature flags everywhere and photographs of the World Cup winning sides of the past, besides those of the legends, Pele, Socrates, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Romario. There were famous quotes of them, and some of the coach Tite too. Basically, motivational ones. Beside the locker, there are photographs of all the players, ” he says.
On a green background with yellow letters are plastered Tite’s messages on the wall. Like Confianca Nao Se Pega E So Salta Quando Se Ouer (Loosely translated as: With confidence, you can leap over every hurdle) and Aproveitem O Momento De Confianca (Enjoy the moment of trust). The Brazilian coach, apparently, has a volley of lines that you would often find in a motivational movement. Fittingly, he is called Professor. It was put forth to him: “Do you prefer being called sir or professor?” Tite, wearing a dry smile replied: “Professor.” And chuckled.
He speaks eloquently, and often philosophical. Elaborating on what winning a World Cup means, he said: “It’s a dream. It’s a dream that inspires people, it’s a dream that educates people. Winning the World Cup is realising the dream every Brazilian is dreaming.:
There is a corner for unwinding too. Like a video-game console, billiards and table tennis boards. The latter is the favourite haunt of Neymar and Richarlison, he says. And when Brazil’s players are inside the stadium, it transforms to an island of carnival. Like, a match is on.
An office-bearer of the club, Haji Mohammad, says the stadium has never felt alive in a long time. “We didn’t get a game for the World Cup. But we will get to see the Brazil team more than all the other stadiums,” he says. The Grand Hamad Stadium has regained some of the lost glory too.
Brazil promises to score goals. And dance. They have packed nine forwards in the side. None like for like, but all bound the singular goal of scoring goals. It’s like the Marvel movie where all their superheroes are collaborating. Neymar, trimmed his instinct for the theatre and sharpened his eye for the goals, less inclined to feigns and step-overs and more disposed to candidness and directness, he is the leader-linchpin Tite wanted him to be.
If he endures an off-day, Vinicius Junior could unleash his speed and trickery on hapless defences. Neymar usually operates as a classical number 10 or dons a free role, where he and Vinicius swap their roles and positions in quick, neat interplay. Vinicius, too, is role-versatile, and could switch from classical nine to a false nine, or a No 10, or rip through the wings. At the tip of their attack is Richarlison, an artiste at pulling and engaging defenders to manufacture space for Neymar, Vinicius and Raphinha.
What makes Brazil’s terrifying, and what made them hammer 40 goals in the qualifying campaign, is the brigade of attackers in Tite’s arsenal. In Raphinha, Pacqeuta, Gabriel Jesus, Antony, Richarlison, Gabriel Martinelli, Perdro and Lucas Pacqueta, the coach has a plethora of goal-scoring riches. Tite calls them perninhas rapidas (fast little legs). Not to forget the aerial prowess of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos.
When they score, they promise to dance. “We have some 10 dances prepared for each match, one for the first, one for the second, one for the third … If we score more than 10, then we’ll have to start innovating,” Richarlison said.
Tite, then, dwelled on the symbolism of dance in Brazil. “It’s a cultural identity, our way of expressing it. It’s not meant to disrespect our opponents. We respect them, just as we respect Arab culture,” he says. At its heady peak, Brazilian football itself is dance, lithe and loose, liquid ripples eddying through the bodies, moments when the players seem but a conduit of the dancing gods.
There is an entire oeuvre of moves. Neymar himself could boast of 10, he has a routine named after him though he had copied from a local band. “Dance is the soul of Brazilian football, the legendary Socrates had once. And dance and goals would be an irresistible union.