Having finished runners-up at last summer’s European Championship on the back of reaching the semi-finals in Russia four years ago, the Three Lions are among the favourites to triumph in the Middle East.
Southgate’s 26-man squad linked up at St George’s Park on Monday fresh from the Premier League pausing and followed a whirlwind day of duties by jetting off to Qatar on Tuesday.
England flew on a plane called ‘Rain Bow’ – noteworthy given the host country’s oppressive laws and treatment of LGBTQ+ people – and touched down in Doha at around 8pm local time.
The Three Lions received a passionate welcome from several hundred people in Al Wakrah – the coastline city they hope to call home for the next four weeks.
England are staying on the shore of the Arabian Gulf at the five-star Souq Al Wakra Hotel, where fans replete in replica shirts and carrying St George’s flags enthusiastically welcomed the team.
“It’s coming home” and the less familiar “Gareth Southgate super coach” were among the chants from supporters, many of whom were of Indian descent.
The fans strongly rebuffed any suggestion they had been paid by organisers to welcome the team.
“We are not paid,” said one fan, who wished to remain anonymous. “Even if someone offered money to us for loving England we would rather tell them to get lost.”
Another supporter showed the ‘England Fans Qatar’ group on WhatsApp, which had 535 members. He said five more similar chats were also running.
Fans said their support for England was born out of their love of the Premier League, citing the likes of former stars Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and John Terry.
The current squad received an excited welcome when they rolled up. A barrier that was erected inside the main fence quickly toppled over as fans rushed to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
Southgate waved at the waiting supporters from the bus and made a point of coming around to thank them for turning out.
England will begin training at nearby Al Wakrah SC Stadium on Wednesday having left their home base at St George’s Park, where Harry Kane spoke of the group’s delight to be competing on the world stage.
“I’m excited, a World Cup is a special occasion,” the skipper said.
“I think for most professionals it is the biggest tournament you can play in as a player, and I have been lucky enough to do one and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
“(The fan support is) going to be massive. I remember when we were out in Russia in our own little bubble.
“We saw all the videos from back home going crazy, it makes a big difference, it motivates us to be successful. We want to make the fans proud and happy.
“Of course, there will be some in the stadiums, we always have great support, but most will be at home and we just want to make them proud.”
England open Group B against Iran on Monday, before taking on the United States and neighbours Wales.
It means a whirlwind turnaround from club action and the need to quickly acclimatise to the weather in Qatar, where temperatures are in the thirties during the day.
“It’s something we have to be conscious of, we play on Monday and it is going to be a really important game,” Kane told the Lions’ Den on England’s YouTube channel.
“Everyone is match-fit and ready to go, come Monday we should be ready.”
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