select - World Cup Capitals

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Soccer is lauded as ‘The Beautiful Game’ and followed with zeal in the four corners of the globe. Oryx tours some capital cities with a faithful football following – all in countries with teams participating in this year’s FIFA World Cup.

 

Cape Town

FOUR-FIFTHS OF THE 450,000 WORLD CUP VISITORS TO SOUTH AFRICA are expected to visit Cape Town, where the new and spectacular Green Point Stadium hosts six group matches, a quarter-final, and a semi-final. No wonder – this is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, surrounded by a great barrier of rugged peaks that frame the city beneath. Then there’s the benign climate, lovely seaside suburbs such as Clifton and Llandudno, and the city’s proximity to vineyards and wildlife. Table Mountain is the natural highlight; the massive block of sandstone rears up over Cape Town, offering expansive views from its 1,086m summit. Cape Town is a blend of Malay, Dutch, British, and African influences, particularly notable in the Malay neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap, with its colourful houses and mosques and spicy Asiatic cuisine.

Downtown, colonial buildings – such as St George’s Cathedral and the Castle of Good Hope – vie with open-air markets for attention. In Greenmarket Square, visitors rummage around a bustling flea market for woodcarvings of African animals, fashionable shoes, and jewellery. Meanwhile, on the waterfront, the revamped Victoria & Albert Basin lures with hotels, restaurants, pubs, museums, and theatres, as well as a working harbour. There’s nothing more pleasant than whiling away time at a waterfront seafood restaurant, enjoying the buskers and the passing crowd. This will be one of the locations of the World Cup’s ‘fan parks’, where soccer fans can gather to watch matches on giant screens – and hopefully celebrate a victory or two with a bit of South African drumming and dance.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Cape Town four times a week.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Expect the crowds to go wild for every Bafana Bafana player, but Cape Town’s own Benedict Saul ‘Benni’ McCarthy – who retired from the national squad after the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002 only to return in 2004 – is the local idol. His goals have proven decisive at international level, helping his team to draw with Denmark at the 1998 World Cup, and again against Spain in 2002.
 

 


Algiers

CROWNED BY AN ANCIENT CITADEL and surrounded by green hills and golden Mediterranean beaches, Algiers has an enviable setting that has made it the country’s largest city and port for centuries. Its long history is evidenced in many Ottoman mansions, built by 16th and 17th-century traders, as well as numerous mosques and its mighty citadel. The modern town had its genesis under the French, who laid out parks, a fine waterfront, and many notable buildings. These days, though, its contemporary street life brings energy to the city, which in recent years has seen an explosion in teahouses, fine-dining restaurants, and a lively nightlife scene, where a chic young crowd parties through the night.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Algiers.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
National hero Antar Yahia, whose goal against Egypt put Algeria through to their first World Cup finals since 1986, is a solid defender. In 2009 he was voted Best Arab Player of the Year by TV network MBC.
 

 


Berlin

BIGGER, BETTER, AND BOLDER THAN EVER, the German capital is finally entering its prime 20 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall. Certainly, everyone wants to see Checkpoint Charlie and the remnants of the Cold War. But the new Berlin is a city of well-priced eateries, lively nightlife, merry beer-drinking, and sizzling, contemporary culture. Old neighbourhoods such as Prenzlauer Berg have been dusted off and turned into the latest places in which to socialise, while Mitte boasts some of the best museums in Europe, including the Near East Museum and Museum of Islamic Art. These days, Berlin is modern, attractive, chic and very cosmopolitan, with one of Europe’s most buzzing arts, culture, and media scenes; and a host of new skyscrapers, nightclubs, and fashion stores that make it one of the capitals of cool and a place where innovation has become the norm. In short, Berlin is again one of Europe’s great cities, successful and confident. With many tipping Germany to be the winners of this year’s World Cup, what better place to join the throng and watch the final on big outdoor screens?
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies daily to Berlin from Doha.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
With Michael Ballack out of this World Cup due to injury, the Bayern Munich striking partnership of ‘Super’ Mario Gómez and Miroslav Klose will test the best defences. Klose is the only German player to have scored five or more goals in consecutive World Cups.
 

 


Buenos Aires

A CENTURY AGO, BUENOS AIRES WAS THE WEALTHIEST CITY IN THE WORLD, a place of fine boulevards and ornate architecture. Since then, the city has been overtaken on a global scale, yet its ebullient residents knock around their palatial buildings, determined to enjoy the good life. While Buenos Aires' buildings look European, the citizens’ spirit is Latin: people giggle in parks, dine out on great shanks of beef, dance the tango far into the night, and follow the passions of soccer. In the La Boca neighbourhood, where soccer star Diego Maradona started his career, houses are painted in soccer team colours. Visit Buenos Aires and you’ll find a place of contradictions and curiosities, but you’ll never be bored.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways commences flights to Buenos Aires via São Paulo on June 24.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Lionel Messi is a centre-forward who can conjure something out of nothing; his game relies on unpredictability and magnificent control of the ball. Messi is at his best when playing wide, but Maradona prefers him as a striker.
 

 


Copenhagen

AS THE ECONOMIC, ARTISTIC, ROYAL, AND POLITICAL CENTRE of wealthy Denmark, little Copenhagen is hip and happening. Founded on a harbour, it grew rich on Baltic trade and has delightful old houses and cobbled streets, with a city centre just made for walking (Strшget is both the longest and oldest pedestrian thoroughfare in Europe). Its 1843 Tivoli Gardens combine flowerbeds with amusement park rides and entertainment, and are still beloved of residents and visitors alike. But these days Copenhagen is also a trendy, youthful city experimenting with new cuisines, spruced-up museums, summer festivals, underground music, and, of course, the best of modern Danish design in architecture and homeware.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Copenhagen four days a week.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
2009 Danish Footballer of the Year and Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner will be looking to add to his 11 goals in 32 games. In qualifying for the 2010 World Cup his goal against Portugal won him the Danish Goal of the Year award.
 

 


London

THE BRITISH ARE RENOWNED FOR THEIR SENSE OF TRADITION, and their capital has all that – and more. A visit to London provides a bewildering choice of historic houses and palaces, royal pageantry, and iconic buildings, such as Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. London also has some of the best museums on the planet, from the treasures of the British Museum to the controversial art of the Tate Modern. Yet the city doesn’t just rest on its considerable laurels; constantly innovating, it is equally renowned for its West End musicals, shopping, and energetic nightlife. Blues bars, ultra-cool nightclubs, and dance parties also await in a city that just keeps going, even after a millennium of history.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has five flights a day from Doha to London.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Agile Liverpool-born Wayne Rooney is acknowledged by many as England’s greatest striker, and while his prowess in front of goal is unquestionable, it’s his overall vision, work ethic, and powerful build that set him apart.
 

 


Lagos

AFRICA’S SECOND-LARGEST CITY and one of the fastest-growing in the world, Lagos may no longer be Nigeria’s capital, but it is the undisputed economic epicentre of the country. It’s also famed for its cultural scene, from moviemaking to performing arts and particularly music, with home-grown styles such as naija hip-hop, Afrobeat, and highlife catching on across the continent. Not surprisingly, nightlife is thriving, especially in the Victoria Island district. Residents are also soccer-mad, with national team the Super Eagles followed with fanaticism. When the urban energy gets a bit too much, the city is surrounded by canals and lagoons, and offers surprisingly good beaches at Atlantic Ocean suburbs such as Lekki, Bar Beach, and Badagry.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Lagos.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Tall, fast, and full of energy, 19-year-old Macauley Chrisantus – centre-forward for the German side Karlsruher SC – was the top scorer at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2007, helping Nigeria win that title.
 

 


Madrid

IF YOU HAVE THE STAMINA FOR LIFE LIVED 24 HOURS A DAY, this very trendy and confident European capital is the place to be. At night, its entertainment districts around Plaza Santa Ana come alive with flamenco bars, restaurants, and jazz venues, while neighbourhoods such as Malasaсa and Chueca offer tapas bars and nightclubs that buzz until dawn.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Madrid.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Scoring 35 goals in just 53 appearances, US$50 million super-star striker David Villa plays with devastating effect on either foot, and is not only the one to watch for Spain, but for the whole tournament.
 

 


Paris

PARIS IS THE MOST VISITED CITY ON EARTH, and everyone has an image of the French capital: a bastion of culture, sophisticated shopping, and romance. The city is all that, but this is also a town of neighbourhoods where ordinary people go about their business, full of the flavours of daily French life. The Eiffel Tower is the glorious symbol of Paris, and many also want to experience its outstanding museums, such as the Louvre and the Musйe d’Orsay, as well as the vast palace and gardens of Versailles in the suburbs. Just save time for the superlative shopping – and a coffee on the terrace of a cafй, where you can watch the world go by.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has twice daily flights from Doha to Paris.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Born in a tough Parisian suburb, the magnificent Thierry Henry is one of Europe’s best-loved players. With prolific pace, his great versatility allows him to dominate as striker or winger, as his 51 international goals in 118 appearances attest.
 

 


Rome

KICK OFF YOUR VISIT TO ROME by admiring the view from Janiculum Hill, where the whole spread of the historic capital lies beneath in a jostle of domes and cupolas. The rooftops of the Vatican are a standout, and this tiny independent state is a must-see. At its centre, St Peter’s Basilica is strewn with sculptures, baroque cherubs, and artworks, while the Vatican Museum, one of the world’s best art galleries, incorporates the Michelangelo frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. Yet, while art and ancient Roman remains are its chief attraction, take time to explore Rome’s chic fashion boutiques, restaurants, and neighbourhood piazzas, where young soccer enthusiasts kick footballs and strolling couples enjoy gelato in the sunshine.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Rome.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Captain Fabio Cannavaro is the only defender to ever win the FIFA World Player of the Year award. Now 36, this will surely be his last World Cup, and the Azzuro will hope his experience and coolness will get them to the finals.
 

 


Tokyo

TOKYO IS THE WORLD’S MOST EXCITING URBAN EXPERIENCE: Japan’s showcase in every field from arts and music to high fashion, teenage trends, anime, technology, and pop culture. The feeling of urgency and energy is palpable. It’s the Japanese success story par excellence: a heady mixture of big business, commerce, entertainment, and startling contrasts. Serene temples compete with ear-splitting karaoke bars, and traditional alley shops stand in the shadow of glittering department stores. Plunge into a kaleidoscope of neon lights, pachinko parlours, staggering shopping, streets, and frenetic nightlife. Then wander down side streets, where you’ll uncover tiny shrines, wooden houses, tranquil Japanese gardens, and speciality shops from times gone by.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Tokyo.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Central playmaker and reigning Asian Footballer of the Year, Yasuhito Endo, is the latest in a long line of versatile Japanese midfielders, and his chemistry with compatriot Makoto Hasebe is the foundation of the team’s short-passing game.
 

 


Washington DC

THE US CAPITAL IS A FAMILIAR FIXTURE on our movie and TV screens, but there is nothing like the real thing: a heady mixture of American symbolism, politics and modern life. It’s also one of the continent’s most historic towns, full of iconic monuments and buildings, shady parks, memorials, and museums such as the staggering Smithsonian. Georgetown is the place where you’ll best get a feel for Washington DC’s colonial history and origins as a tobacco port. But beyond its famous sights, the capital has a thriving arts and live music scene, and great shopping, dining, and nightlife in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods such as Adams-Morgan, U-Street Corridor, Penn Quarter, and the much-revived Old Downtown.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Washington DC daily.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
Goalkeeper Tim Howard’s eight saves against Spain at the Confederations Cup in 2009 earned him a clean sheet against the World No.1 team, and his ensuing performance throughout the tournament earned him the Golden Gloves.
 

 


Seoul

IN SEOUL, HISTORY COLLIDES WITH TECHNOLOGY. Get lost in the 500 buildings of Gyeongbokgung Palace before investigating ultra-modern shopping malls. Later, mingle with university students in Shinchon district eateries, and check out the pulsating nightlife around Gangnam. Sometimes the juxtaposition of old and new is surreal: splendid 14th-century Namdaemun Gate is surrounded by a swirl of jostling Hyundais.
 

HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Seoul daily.
 

PLAYER TO WATCH
While the talented Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung is noted for his exceptional fitness, Koreans will be looking to free-kick specialist and creative front-man Park Chu-Young to get them past the first stages.
 

 
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