England coach Fabio Capello at a press conference in Doha Friday (J. Corbett)

(WFI) Part dust bowl, part construction site, part super city, Doha, capital of the Gulf kingdom of Qatar, forms the unlikely venue for Saturday’s clash of two of international football’s great powers.

England and Brazil will meet at the Khalifa Stadium in a prestige friendly, funded by the al-Jazeera TV network, in what the two country’s managers, Fabio Capello and Dunga, describe as a litmus test ahead of next summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

Bookmakers make the South Americans joint 9/2 favorites for the tournament with Spain, while a revived England – despite their mediocre finals’ record – are rated next best.

Despite grumbles in England that this is a meaningless affair between two injury-depleted teams, for the Qataris it provides an important window to show the world their country’s potential as a major sporting venue.

It is one of 10 candidates bidding for the 2018/2022 World Cup finals and at first glance seems an outsider.

Its national team has never appeared at a World Cup finals and with a population of less than 1.5 million would be by a considerable distance the smallest country to host a modern finals.

Yet the country’s rulers are keen to counteract these perceptions. They are using the event to show the world how they place sport at the center of their plans for everything, from education to urban development.

Since the foreign press pack descended on Wednesday, the Qatari FA have taken time to preview their bid plans for the tournament and show how sporting infrastructure will be entwined with Doha’s development.

In many ways this is less a conventional World

Capello talks with Italian journalists ahead of England’s clash with Brazil (J. Corbett)

Cup host bid, and more along the lines of an Olympic city bid.

Bid chiefs claim that no football fan will be more than 90 minutes away from any stadium; while expansive urban development will feature new stadia as its keystone.

Qatar 2022 officials have also shown journalists some of the sporting infrastructure already in place. The bid’s tag line is ‘Expect Amazing’, and for once it is not an overstated one. This correspondent was left slack-jawed after being shown around one of its incredible sport development institutes earlier on Friday.

Branding for the bid is everywhere, from the luggage carousels as you arrive at the airport, to the boulevards that run through the city.

The Qatari FA has agreed to embargo the use of bid logos during tomorrow’s match out of respect to the English, who are bidding for the 2018 and 2022 finals.

But WFI understands it will get around this agreement by using match branding in the same colors as the bid logo.

Capello can’t stand the heat

One of the main concerns surrounding this fixture and indeed a potential World Cup is the country’s searing heat. Even on a November afternoon, on the eve of the country’s winter, the temperature reached 33 degrees. In June, temperatures often hit 50.

After a tough training session yesterday morning, at which England duo John Terry and Frank Lampard picked up injuries, Fabio Capello postponed this morning’s scheduled session to this evening in an attempt to escape the heat.

Asked about the heat at his pre-match press conference, Capello joked that his ideal training venue would be inside the hotel “where there was air conditioning”.

Gareth Barry, who is expected to captain England tomorrow in Terry’s absence, admitted that it had been “very tough training” and acknowledged that “a lot of the players” preferred an evening session.

Written by James Corbett        

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