Pablo Bateson is in Qatar as part of the travelling Socceroos support, as he continues a fascinating journey to attend all of Australia’s World Cup qualifiers for Brazil 2014.
Despite the huge reality check last month in Amman, there was an air of optimism and quiet confidence amongst the Socceroos supporters that attended the squad’s final training session this evening (Monday) at the Al Arabi Sports Club stadium.
Perhaps symbolically, near the conclusion of the session, a practice run through of the stadium PA system played 'Advance Australia Fair", which inspired some young and eager fans to join in full song.
Players generously then made themselves available to meet many of their admiring supporters and showed great patience with the numerous photo opportunities.
Andy Fairburn, a London-based Aussie, even got seconded into an impromptu role to assist in a dress rehearsal for unfolding of our national flag, which occurs at the official opening just before kick-off.
Although temperatures in Doha during the past week have peaked at around 37 degrees, conditions for a kick-off scheduled for just after sunset will be excellent.
Hundreds of expats will make up the vast majority of the Aussie contingent, with some hard-core travelling fans ready to take on the role of leading and firing-up the chants.
Football Federation Australia has been working with Australian embassy and Austrade officials to help promote and mobilise the very sizeable expat communities in the region.
With the training session once again restricted to only Australians fans, little was given away as to what the Socceroos’ starting line-up would look like.
However, there appears to be no serious concerns about injuries or player fitness.
Only a little earlier, the Iraq squad wrapped up its own training with close attention from Brazilian legend Zico and his coaching entourage.
A big question mark remains as to whether his team can overcome a controversial preparation that included such a heavy loss to Brazil in Sweden and the associated disruptions of travel demands and climatic readjustments.
Even with these factors it would be foolish to underestimate the squad’s resolve and potential to rediscover top form.
Wisely, the Iraqi FA has kept ticket prices very reasonable (approximately $8), and will avoid a repeat of the outrage generated at a World Cup qualifier in Dubai four years ago.
The total crowd attendance is likely to be very modest, especially given that another qualifier between Qatar and Uzbekistan is kicking off at 3:25pm. Our allotted 'away fans" area will be Section 8, so hopefully the lucky Chinese number can rub off.
This is my third visit to Doha, and as a refreshing change in this rapidly evolving Gulf nation, I’m staying at the new and inspiring K108 Hotel. This locally owned establishment is operated using a very different governance model, in which 100 per cent of all 'profits" are donated to charities.
The match day build-up for our fans will be focused around a ritual pre-game function hosted by the Grand Hyatt Hotel, with supportive Australian management.
Most games in any tournament qualification group are critical, yet none more so than this clash. The match provides the Socceroos with the opportunity to get the campaign back on track, by stepping up a couple of notches and delivering what we all know they are capable of under pressure.
I’m nervously excited and - along with compatriots - am ready to play a role on the terraces to help lift the team with some colour and noise.
'C’mon Aussies, C’mon Aussies"!