DOHA - Chaotic scenes broke out inside and outside the fan festival at Al Bidda Park in Doha on Sunday an hour before the kick off of the opening World Cup match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador after organizers allowed too many fans to flood the precinct.
The venue has a capacity of 40,000 but at least double that number of people tried to make their way in and for a long time many were let into a holding area between the main festival park and the perimeter entrance.
Police realized the problem and had to shepherd irate supporters back out of the venue.
"It was dangerous," one fan carrying a child aged nearly four, who had exited the holding area, told Reuters. "They let too many people in. We never made it into the main area and I was glad to leave."
The police took about 45 minutes to clear the excess fans from the area. Frustrated local fans, volunteers and media were visibly upset with police, but supporters of other countries appeared more understanding. While there was chaos in the holding area, the scene inside the park seemed pleasant, with Brazilian fans Andrea Nascimento and Raphael de Jesus appreciating the atmosphere.
"I think Qatar will be a great host. Now that the games are starting, the vibe is building," Jesus said. "This is my third World Cup after 2014 and 2018, and so far everything has been very well organized."
He described it as "a party involving many countries of the world. The world needs this because there are so many problems right now and sport brings people together."
Elsewhere, at the famous Souk Waqif market fans from all over the world converged with many flags from Saudi Arabia and Iran on show plus a strong South American representation. For 20 Qatari riyals, fans could do three laps of a pen on the back of a muzzled camel, overlooked by the studios of TV broadcasters.
As kick off approached, the narrow streets of the Souk began to empty, the air filled with the scent of spices and dried fruit on sale outside the various shops. Fans gathered below the TV studios, craning their necks to try to get a view of the action on the big screens through the windows. A group of fans sat inside a Majlis, an air-conditioned sitting room, with their eyes glued to a television screen.
Several tables set up for Shatranj, an old form of chess, lay vacant on the other side of the room as football fever gripped the patrons at the Majlis.
(Writing by Manasi Pathak in Al Rayyan; Editing by Ken Ferris)