The Lusail Stadium in Doha was officially inaugurated on September 9, 2022. Cut to October 2023, the 88,000-seater has already had the privilege of hosting arguably the best final in World Cup history, as it witnessed Lionel Messi cross his final hurdle with Argentina beating France in the 2022 World Cup final.
After the World Cup final, Lusail will be adding another feather in its cap – this time making its mark in Asian football. With defending champion Qatar scheduled to host the AFC Asian Cup 2023, the country’s largest stadium will host two crucial fixtures in the tournament – the opening fixture between Qatar and Lebanon on January 12, 2024, and the final on February 10.
With less than 100 days to go before Asia’s best battle to clinch the prestigious crown of champion, preparations are in full swing to get the venue tournament-ready.
“We will bring all the infrastructure from the World Cup for AFC [Asian Cup], including transportation. But mainly, we can see the readiness. Lusail stadium is one of the biggest structures… it has the capability to host different entities – be it media or hospitality. It has all the access. We saw that with the fan experience in the World Cup. It is a venue with a lot of advantages,” said Abdullah Al Fehani, Deputy Director, Venues, 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qatar.
The Asian Cup will take place throughout January and February, which means that the mercury will be kinder to the players, compared to the scorching heat, usually seen from April to late October.
Despite that, the authorities said that they do not wish to compromise on the unique air-conditioning facilities of the Lusail stadium, and it will be ensured that the players get to play in optimal conditions. The stadium will mainly rely on harnessing solar energy for its air-conditioning purposes, as it did during the World Cup.
The Lusail stadium, with its humongous seating capacity, maintains a perfect balance of grandiosity and elegance. But in order to promote sustainable development, Lusail’s capacity is scheduled to be reduced by half. The venue will be transformed into a community hub and residential area, with shops, schools, clinics and cafes. The upper tier will be turned into outdoor terraces for the venue’s new residents.
“Most of the construction work is finished. Our focus is on sustainability, so we will implement this plan, monitor it and report it. Everything will be a part of the experience itself. The venue is also GSAS ( Global Sustainability Assessment System) certified, and we will ensure that sustainability is ensured during that [the process of transformation],” Abdullah said, without providing any specific timeline regarding when the process will be completed.
On the pitch
Unlike the lush green carpet that was seen during the World Cup last year, the pitch did look patchy in certain areas. “It is just regular maintenance work that is going on,” said Abdullah adding that preparations are on track.
As far as the quality of grass is concerned, there have been reports that the grass may be completely replaced ahead of the Asian Cup. Treated with specialised chemicals, Lusail Stadium uses top-quality grass, grown inside a nursery inside the Aspire Academy.
Off the pitch
While the pitch is getting top-notch catering, off-the-pitch facilities too, are being refurbished, with the dressing room and massage centres being kept in top shape.
New screens will be installed in the dressing rooms, which will facilitate a seamless experience for coaches as they get their instructions across and hash out their tactics with the teams.
“Our dressing room and facilities are all FIFA compliant. As you can see, we have a theme and architecture of the gold strips inside the dressing rooms. The stem shape is also implemented here,” Abdullah said while standing inside the dressing room used by Argentina during the World Cup final against France.
Lusail has made its exclusivity known by hosting just two matches of the AFC Asian Cup 2023, but if the World Cup is anything to go by, fans have plenty of reason to be excited by the prospect of watching a match at the iconic stadium.
The writer is in Doha at the invitation of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Local Organizing Committee