World Cup chiefs on Friday banned beer sales around stadiums in a stunning U-turn just two days before kickoff as Cristiano Ronaldo prepared to jet in to Qatar.
Alcohol is largely prohibited in the Islamic nation but the organisers sparked anger from fans with their dramatic decision.
Football’s world governing body FIFA said beer would not be sold to fans around any of the eight World Cup stadiums following discussions with the hosts.
“A decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters,” FIFA said in a statement.
Dozens of Budweiser beer tents had already been set up at grounds ahead of the first game on Sunday between Qatar and Ecuador.
The host nation has predicted that more than one million fans will visit the country for the 29-day tournament and FIFA has had a longstanding sponsorship deal with Budweiser, which is owned by drinks giant AB InBev.
Beer will remain available in VIP suites in stadiums, in some fan zones and in some hotel and restaurant bars.
The Football Supporters’ Association, which represents fans from England and Wales, criticised the move, saying it was symptomatic of a “total lack of communication” with supporters from the organisers.
“If they can change their minds on this at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfil other promises relating to accommodation, transport or cultural issues,” it said in a statement.
– Ronaldo arrives –
Ronaldo is set to become the latest global superstar to land in Qatar after his explosive tirade against his club Manchester United.
The Portugal forward, who has dominated global football for the past 15 years alongside Argentina’s Lionel Messi, will be playing in his fifth and likely final World Cup.
The 37-year-old, who has a world-record 117 international goals, is aiming to become the first man to score in five World Cups.
But his arrival in Doha will be overshadowed by an astonishing outburst against United, in which he said he felt “betrayed” by the club and had no respect for manager Erik ten Hag.
The forward, who has more than 800 goals for club and country, appears headed for the Old Trafford exit door but will be desperate to show potential suitors he can still deliver on the biggest stage.
Earlier this week he pledged “total and absolute focus on the work of the national team” along with a photo of himself and some of his international team-mates on social media.
Manchester United issued a fresh statement on Friday, saying the club had “initiated appropriate steps in response to Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent media interview”.
“We will not be making further comment until this process reaches its conclusion,” the club added.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner missed Portugal’s 4-0 demolition of Nigeria in a friendly on Thursday with illness but will hope to be fit for their opening match against Ghana in Qatar on November 24.
The Euro 2016 champions will also face Uruguay and South Korea in Qatar.
Messi, 35, is also likely featuring at his final World Cup, as the curtain starts to come down on an era of astonishing dominance from the two players.
Belgium, second in the world rankings, are also due to arrive in Doha late on Friday, with five-time champions Brazil expected on Saturday.
Defending champions France are sweating on the fitness of forward Karim Benzema and defender Raphael Varane ahead of their opening game on Tuesday.
Real Madrid’s Benzema has been struggling with a thigh problem while Manchester United defender Varane is recovering from a leg injury.
“Karim and Raphael are doing really well,” teammate Adrien Rabiot said on Friday. “They trained apart because that was the protocol that was in place for them.
“They are good and are really keen to play, but I don’t know if they will be involved in the first match.”