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Fans dreaming of success ahead of England and Wales’ first World Cup games


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housands of England and Wales fans will watch on in Qatar as both nations begin their bids for World Cup 2022 glory.

Millions more supporters are expected to tune in back home as England open their group B campaign against Iran on Monday afternoon before Wales make their first appearance at the World Cup finals since 1958 against the US.

Both teams will be hoping to get off to a winning start and pick up points in their second games later in the week before facing each other next week for their final group stage fixture.

Almost 2,400 Three Lions fans applied for tickets for the Iran game via the England Supporters’ Travel Club and Wales expect more than 2,500 of their supporters to have made the trip.

Their ranks are expected to be swelled by fans in the region, with shuttle flights from Dubai and taxi trips from Saudi Arabia among the options for those heading to the tournament.

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Jafar Said, 27, a consultant from Newport, has travelled to Qatar with his family members Hamza Ali, 27, from London, and Khalid Ali, 18.

Mr Said, who supports Wales, said they are staying for two weeks but joked that he would stay on if Wales get through the round of 16.

“Don’t take me home,” he told the PA news agency at the fan festival in Al-Bidda, Doha.

“We’re having an amazing time, everyone has been very friendly.

“And I’m very optimistic of our chances, we’ve got a good blend of experienced players.

“Also a lot of people don’t expect us to win so we haven’t got the pressure that England have.

“Plus we have (Gareth) Bale.”

The trio have tickets to Wales’ opening match, but will be heading to a fan zone to watch the England game against Iran beforehand.

Hamza Ali, who is an England fan, said: “I’m just excited now.

“It’s a good group and hopefully we’ll top the group.

“And if we get through I’ll definitely stay as well, all the way.”

Bryn Barnard, 30, from Portsmouth but who supports Wales, said he is only in Qatar for the first game against the US.

“I don’t think my girlfriend would be let me stay longer, it’s a lot of money,” he told PA.

“I’ve supported Wales since I was around eight, my mum is Welsh, and I love it.

“There’s just so much culture around it.

“With my accent other fans could me like ‘you’re not Welsh’ but they’re not and, to be honest most of the Wales team are like me.

“I’m just hoping we win, I think we need to start strong.”

On the controversy over drink being banned from the stadiums, he said: “I can see where a lot of fans are coming from, they did promise us before we came that we could drink here.

“But I haven’t had a drink since I got here and I’ve not missed it. You come here for the experience. I can drink at home.”

Darren Walsh from Bridgend and Lee Williams from the Rhondda, both 50, said they would be heading to a pre-match party with Wales fans being held in a hotel in the city before heading to the stadium for the game.

“It would have been nice to have had a few beers in the stadium beforehand, I think it would mean a better build up, but it now just means fans will stay where they are for a bit longer before going to the game,” Mr Walsh said.

Rich Moran, 37, from Sleaford in Lincolnshire, said England should “go quite far” in the tournament if boss Gareth Southgate makes the right decisions on team selection and tactics.

Mr Moran, speaking in Doha, said: “We’ve got the players to definitely win it, 100%.

“Quite a lot of the young players have had the taste of Euro 2020, so they know what to expect now, they’re not exactly fresh at it.”

He added: “They can handle the pressure. At the last World Cup against Croatia we switched off for two minutes and conceded two silly goals, as long as they don’t switch off again we should go all the way.”

England and Wales go head-to-head at Al Rayyan Stadium on November 29.

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford told reporters in Doha that the country should “dare to dream” and that he was optimistic about the national team’s chances of getting out of the group stages.

“The beauty of sport is that on the day, any team can win any game,” he added.

Controversy has surrounded the build-up to the tournament, with the Gulf state’s record on human rights and treatment of migrant workers under scrutiny.

Several LGBT+ supporters have opted not to travel to the gulf state where homosexuality is still illegal.

England and Wales intend to wear the OneLove rainbow armband against discrimination despite Fifa announcing plans for its own band on the eve of the tournament.

England players have also faced calls to use Monday’s game to raise awareness of anti-government protests in Iran.

These were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by police in the capital, Tehran, for allegedly not adhering to the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

Qatar lost 2-0 to Ecuador on Sunday, becoming the first host nation in the tournament’s 92-year history to lose the opening match.

Empty seats could be seen in the second half during the group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor.

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