Fans of England and Wales endured a rough night in Doha as beers flowed and songs sang ahead of the crucial game that will decide their future at the World Cup.
he city’s Red Lion pub has become a popular meeting place for fans of both home nations and tens of thousands of international fans who have traveled across continents for football’s biggest tournament.
Dubbed the ‘Battle of Britain’, England and Wales meet at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium for their final Group B game, with hordes of fans arriving and millions more watching at home.
The Three Lions are currently top of the group and need just a point to guarantee a place in the knockout rounds, while Wales need to win and hope for a favorable result between Iran and the USA.
If old rivalries are expected to be showcased on the pitch, the tension was not reflected among the bar’s patrons as laughter, music and popular chants erupted from the characteristically rowdy Welsh fans.
But despite the merry atmosphere, the seriousness of the game ahead was not forgotten – especially with the Welshmen.
Among the players on the heaving floor was new signing Steven Williams from Rhydyfelin in Pontypridd, South Wales, who booked a ticket after seeing Wales’ poor performance in the last two games.
“A lot of people put us down after the last game but I thought I had to get out there – I’m flying the flag for the Welsh people here,” said the 47-year-old.
“I’d like to walk away with a win tomorrow, but that’s almost not as important as the statement we’re making here in Qatar.
“We’ve waited 64 years for this and we’re here in the bars, the restaurants, the souq and everywhere in between to spread the word about our presence.”
For others, including Lee Holloway, 43, of Pontypridd, the result is more important.
He said: “I just want us to go home proud but right now we can’t do that.
“I think when we play against our old enemies, we show up.
“But it’s going to be a tough game, there’s no doubt about that. If the boys show up, we might get 1-0, but that might not be enough.”
Isaac Thomas, a 23-year-old teacher from Swansea, has traveled solo to Qatar – he didn’t want to miss the moment to see Wales at a World Cup – and said he’s had a “brilliant experience” so far.
“It’s a beautiful place and I’ve met so many kind people, it’s not what the media portrays,” said Mr. Thomas.
“The only disappointing thing was the football.”
“That and the price of a pint – but that didn’t stop us,” he joked.
“But the players just haven’t shown up yet. That’s why I hope and pray for a win and a draw in Iran vs USA tomorrow.”
Thomas Elward, 55, from Gilfach Goch, revealed he had traveled to away games in Wales since he was 13 and said he was “confident” Wales would beat England.
“I’m confident we will win but it doesn’t matter if we lose because we support Wales that makes us winners,” he said.
The England fans, scattered everywhere, seemed calmer and looked ahead beyond the group stage – confident they would qualify.
William Threlfall, 56, who lives in Cambridge and has followed England home and away for 30 years, described his experience in Qatar as “amazing” and predicted a 2-0 England win.
He added: “Tournament football starts when you’re through the group games, we will then critique Gareth Southgate (if necessary).”
His friend Chris Finch, 50, from Nottinghamshire, added: “We will never win anything if we are risk averse.”
Mr Finch believes England boss Southgate has chosen the “safe option”, noting: “It will work until we play well against someone in the quarter-finals and we go home.”
Nottingham brothers Simon and John Hatter said they arrived in Qatar ahead of the Wales game and wanted to stay as long as England stayed in the tournament.
Simon, 52, and John, 57, are hoping for a start from Jack Grealish – with the pair having a soft spot for the Manchester City attacker due to a loan spell with their team Notts County earlier in his career.
Simon said: “I think England will beat Wales, get through the group and the round of 16 and it will be more difficult in the quarter-finals – France are looking good.”
He added on Tuesday: “I reckon it’s 3-1 for England.”
Sport Minister Stuart Andrew has announced he will wear the rainbow-colored armband, banned by Fifa, when attending the game.
The Conservative front bencher, who is gay, said it was “really unfair” that the Football Association had prevented England and Wales captains from donning the OneLove anti-discrimination armband at the eleventh hour.
Wales also revealed that winger Dan James had gifted tickets to the game to volunteers at their World Cup training base.
Elsewhere, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, head of Britain’s Football Police, told the PA news agency there had been no arrests or incidents in the first nine days of the tournament and commended England and Wales fans for their “exemplary” behaviour.
He said the lack of trouble at the World Cup in Qatar, which he said was due in large part to reduced alcohol availability, was a sign ministers should resist calls to ease restrictions on drinking at UK football pitches loosen.
It comes as police in Tenerife announce they will launch a major security operation to prevent possible violence during the England-Wales game.
Video footage emerged of a brawl outside bars on Spain’s largest Canary Island involving people wearing England and Wales shirts on Friday night.
British police fear people who have been prevented from traveling to Qatar for the World Cup may have been involved in the Tenerife incident, but added they have yet to confirm this.
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/fans-enjoy-raucous-night-in-doha-ahead-of-world-cup-battle-of-britain-42180795.html Fans enjoy raucous night in Doha ahead of World Cup ‘Battle of Britain’