DOHA (AFP) – With a little under 2,022 days until the Qatar World Cup kicks-off, the tiny yet hugely ambitious Gulf state will officially unveil the tournament s first completed venue on Friday.
The Khalifa International Stadium — complete with the much-talked-about cooling technology that was central to Qatar s controversial bid for the World Cup — will host the country s biggest domestic cup competition, The Emir Cup final.
On the pitch it will be a battle between arguably the country s biggest teams — Al Sadd, skippered by Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez, who called the stadium “fantastic” on a tour Thursday, and Al Rayyan.
But off the pitch, the stadium will provide a solid example of Qatar s progress for the World Cup, a mere 2012 days before the tournament kicks-off.
“I think it is a source of immense joy and pride,” Nasser Al-Khater, a senior figure at World Cup organising body, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, told AFP.
“It s a stadium dear to our hearts, Khalifa Stadium, so we re happy that it s the first stadium to be completed.
“It s real, it shows you the progress you ve been working hard on is actually coming to reality.
“And you can see it and you can feel it, it s tangible. It s a thrill.”
The stadium was first built in 1976 and has just gone through its second refurbishment.
It will house 40,000 fans during the World Cup, hosting matches played up to the quarter-final stage.
Significantly, it will also host the 2019 World Athletics Championships.
As part of its revamp, Khalifa includes technology that will provide air-conditioning for fans.
Approximately 500 jet nozzles will blast out cold air, keeping temperatures at around 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit), for fans.
Chilled water is piped to the stadium from a cooling centre about one kilometre from the stadium, then once it arrives, cold air is pushed into the stadium.
The man responsible for the system, Qatar University s Dr Saud Ghani, said he believed Khalifa represented a world-first.
“There isn t on earth, one open air, air-conditioned stadium,” he said.
Dr Ghani said the system at Khalifa would use up to 40 per cent less energy than other cooling methods
Ironically, it may not be used to regulate temperatures for fans during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA decided to move the tournament to Qatar s winter in November and December.
Khalifa is the scene of one of Qatar s major sporting triumphs, the 1992 Gulf Cup victory.
It was also the stadium where Saudi Arabia secured their first ever World Cup qualification, with a thrilling 4-3 win over Iran.
Khater would not give a figure for the redevelopment of Khalifa, though one estimate puts the cost at $90 million (82 million euros).
Qatar is spending up to $10 billion on stadiums and training grounds, officials have said previously.
However, Khater denied reports earlier this year that the country has slashed its budget by up to 40 per cent, claiming the original figure needed for stadiums was an estimate only.
In February, Qatar s finance minister Ali Shareef Al-Emadi said the country was spending almost $500m every week on major infrastructure projects for football s biggest tournament.
Khalifa s rebuild has not been without tragedy though.
In January it was announced that Briton Zac Cox died in a fall at the stadium.
And one of Qatar s strongest critics over labour conditions for migrant workers, Amnesty International, claimed in 2016 that workers at Khalifa suffered “systematic labour abuse”, a claim it repeated on Thursday.