Container cabins in the desert: Fans check into village as World Cup kick-off nears
"The only thing is I could do with an extra pillow," an England fan tells CNA's Matthew Mohan, as he explores one of the accommodation options for supporters in Qatar.
DOHA: Like a mirage in the desert, a multicoloured grid of repurposed shipping containers appear in the distance.
Row after row after row, they sit in a vast expanse of space. Neatly arranged in numerical and alphabetical order, messages such as "Welcome" and "Play" in both English and Arabic are plastered on the front of some.
This is the World Cup's Fan Village Cabins Free Zone - the accommodation for some fans attending football's biggest tournament.
When CNA visited on Saturday morning (Nov 19), workers were busy cleaning the container cabins in one section of the sprawling complex.
In another area of the fan village, it was all systems go.
Fans had begun to arrive, some dressed in their various national strips. They were guided to the reception area by staff members. Others trooped off in the direction of the nearby metro station.
Dining containers offering various cuisines - including Starbucks - line the site's main thoroughfare as flags of various World Cup nations wrestle with the wind. Nestled on chairs on the artificial turf, some munched on lunch.
Outside the main accommodation area, large cinema-sized screens, complete with beanbags, have been set up. For those so inclined, basketball courts, futsal pitches and an outdoor gym beckon.
There is also a supermarket and a pharmacy in the vicinity.
"We will see how it is tonight. Yesterday it was empty here, like two or three people. But maybe it is because the fans haven't come yet," said Mexican fan Dario Rodriguez, who had checked into his cabin on Friday.
"We came here open-minded because we genuinely didn't know what to expect," said Welsh fan Gruff Davies. "It's not been too bad to be fair."
"There are a lot of good restaurants and coffeeshops actually, so it's going to be fine. I'm expecting good environment and vibes in the next days," said Saudi Arabia fan Faisal Alrashed.
With more than a million visitors expected to arrive in Qatar over the course of the World Cup from Nov 20 to Dec 18, organisers have had to get creative with accommodation options.
On top of eight fan villages with lodging in tents, shipping containers, caravans - and an eco-farm - supporters can stay in cruise ships or plump for more regular choices of hotels, apartments and villas.
Some of these options have come under heavy criticism in recent days, with videos surfacing of spartan, incomplete tents in the desert.
According to a report by British daily The Guardian, another container complex, the Rawdat Al Jahhaniya fan village, still looked as if it was under construction as recently as Friday.
"I WAS EXPECTING WORSE"
At the Fan Village Cabins Free Zone which CNA visited, rooms in the air-conditioned containers were no-frills and basic.
They come fitted with two single beds, tables, chairs, lamps, a fridge, a kettle and a toilet.
One night at such a cabin starts at QAR 740 (US$207), according to the official accommodation agency.
Fans CNA spoke to said they were generally satisfied with the village.
"I think it's a good solution for all the people that are coming," said Ecuador fan Juan Diego Donoso, though he added that the prices were a little bit high for what the cabins offered.
Mr Mostafa Sharkawy, a football fan from Egypt, pointed out that the room was "a little bit small", and the air-conditioning unit noisy.
But Mr Davies and fellow Welsh fan Cai Edwards said that they had expected worse.
"It's not even too small for two of us ... We're not here for the whole group stage, maybe if (fans) are here for the whole group stage, it might be a bit small because they have got suitcases," said Mr Davies. "It's no issue at all."
Fans also cited the even higher cost of accommodation elsewhere as one of the reasons for selecting the container cabins.
"The only thing is I could do with an extra pillow. If I had to moan about anything, it would be that," said English fan Paul Guyett. "To sleep in that ... I'm fine for the price, really."
Mr Alrashed from Saudi Arabia said he was looking forward to mingling with other fans in the days to come.
"The best thing about this place is the environment. Different cultures, different countries ... Here you have people who are passionate about football."
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