Fans give frothy welcome to first World Cup beers

Thousands of football fans queued Saturday to get the first beers served at the official World Cup fan zone after sales were banned around stadiums in Islamic Qatar.

Twenty-four hours from the football tournament's opening match, Juan Alvarez emerged from the Budweiser stand with a big grin on his face, balancing 12 plastic goblets of beer on three trays.

Alvarez brushed aside the $13.50 price for one half-litre, and came out just in time to see the first of the spectacular firework displays that host Qatar is putting on for fans each day.

"I will drink at least three of these myself," the 37-year-old Mexican fan told AFP.

"The fireworks and lasers are great, but you cannot have a World Cup without beer."

With official tournament security watching, some thirsty fans waited an hour for the stand to open.

Three hundred staff were waiting to serve the 2,000 people in line, breaking into dances and Mexican waves to entertain the queues.

Qatar has been a troublesome new test for FIFA's alcohol policies.

In 2014, the international football federation had to pressure Brazil to ease a ban on stadium beer sales before the World Cup there.

Drinking alcohol in public is illegal in Qatar and sales are normally restricted to a government store and about 35 hotel and restaurant bars.

- Taste of 'freedom' -

The fan zone in the capital Doha opened a day after Qatar and FIFA banned beer around the eight World Cup stadiums.

The surprise move was the talk of the queues.

"This is a country of rules," said Bangladeshi Mohammed Nisar after spending more than $50 on four beers.

The fan zone beer store, he said, was "freedom".

FIFA president Gianni Infantino earlier played down the significance of restricting beer.

"For me personally, if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive," he told a press conference.

"If this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup then I will sign (off) immediately and go to the beach and relax until December 18."

Infantino said that Budweiser, which paid FIFA a reported $75 million for a four-year sponsorship deal, had renewed it until 2026, taking the beer brand to the next World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Donna Alvarez, one of many fans wearing Mexico shirts in the fan zone, agreed that beer alone should not decide whether a country should host the World Cup.

"But if it is here, we will drink it and probably come back for more," she told AFP.

Some fans groaned at the prices in the fan zone and in the few other venues that sell beer, which can go for more than $15 at one of Doha's luxury hotels.

"It is one month, we will have to put up with," said one Briton.

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