World Cup chiefs on Friday banned beer sales around stadiums in a stunning U-turn just two days before kick-off as Cristiano Ronaldo prepared to jet in to Qatar.
Alcohol is largely prohibited in the Islamic nation, but the organisers sparked fury from fans with their dramatic late 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.
It gave no reason for the surprise decision, but media reports said there had been an intervention by Qatar’s ruling family.
A FIFA statement said sales of alcohol would be focused on fan zones and licensed venues, “removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters”.
Dozens of Budweiser beer tents had already been set up at grounds ahead of the first game on Sunday between Qatar and Ecuador.
The parent company of the US beer giant, Belgium-based AB InBev, said the restrictions were “beyond our control”.
The Football Supporters’ Association, which represents fans from England and Wales, criticised the move.
“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.
In Doha, fans reacted with disappointment.
Ecuador supporter Amelia, 22, said “it’s going to be like a cultural shock” not to be able to drink alcohol at her country’s games.
“It’s not prohibited in most countries around the world,” she added. “But we have to respect their culture and their rules.”
Qatar has spent tens of billions of dollars preparing for the World Cup and has predicted that more than one million fans will visit the country for the 29-day tournament.
But the Gulf state’s strict cultural rules have faced international scrutiny.
– 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” in a social media post.
Manchester United issued a fresh statement on Friday, saying the club had “initiated appropriate steps in response to Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent media interview”.
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.
Belgium, second in the world rankings, are also due to arrive in Doha late on Friday, with five-time champions Brazil expected the following day.
The build-up to the tournament in Qatar has been dominated by concerns over the Gulf state’s treatment of migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said his team would not be silenced even though they had been banned from wearing training shirts bearing the slogan “Human Rights for All”.
“We’re not being silenced,” he said. “There is a lot of work going on from the Danish side, from the Danish team, from our sports director, from the board.
“There’s a lot of ways to try to change things and hopefully we won’t be put in this situation again.”