Hidden near the dunes, Saudi Arabia plot another World Cup shock

Argentina’s conquerors are preparing to repeat the trick against Poland, at their quiet base 25 miles from their own borderHalf a mile to the south of Saudi Arabia’s training pitch, the silhouettes of two camels move slowly against the late afternoon sun. They are carrying visitors along the crest of a sand dune whose slopes are scarred by the tracks of overland vehicles and SUVs. At the bottom, a gargantuan Chevrolet advertisement offers alternative transport options and a long line of semi-permanent structures hawks tourist trinkets. This is the gateway to a region Qatar hopes will bewitch those who want a break from the football: a near-empty expanse of undulating sand that covers the country’s south-eastern interior and is marketed as an outdoor adventurer’s playground.In truth it hardly resembles a honeypot and that is how its temporary residents like it. The Saudi Football Association stole in quickly to secure this base, at the exclusive Sealine beach resort, two and a half years ago. It is only 25 miles from the border with their country and, an hour’s drive south of Doha, feels cut off from the inner city’s manic energy. They knew from the experience of 2019, when Qatar hosted the Gulf Cup, that the noise and logjams of an urban centre present unwelcome hurdles over the course of a tournament.

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