Footprints: World Cup in 'our backyard'.

THE airline official at the check-in counter at Allama Iqbal International calls out to passengers queuing for their flight that the Hayya application in their phones needs to be updated.

Hours before the flight was due to take off for Doha, World Cup organisers had made an update to the app for Qatar's entry permit, sparking a frenzy among those waiting for their boarding passes.

For most of them, this is a trip of a lifetime. The chance to see the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in action, and they immediately start downloading the update.

Unlike past world cups, Qatar's proximity has meant that Pakistani fans of the game will be travelling in numbers to the Arab state to watch the showpiece tournament unfold. Never before has it been this convenient, and despite the falling value of the rupee, fans have dug into their pockets to experience a World Cup game.

'I've been following football since 2004 and, finally, I'm travelling for the World Cup,' Nauman Zaheer, who secured three tickets for the group matches, told Dawn at the airport. 'Super excited for this.'

With direct flights operating from Pakistan to Qatar., this is the first time in three tournaments that a flight is mostly made up of World Cup fans - and that too because football tourism has picked up as a phenomenon in Pakistan.

It started with the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia, where fans only needed a match ticket to obtain a fan ID, which allowed them to get a visa on arrival. Qatar has done the same with the Hayya pass this time around.

'It's an easy way for us [the fans],' Farazam Younus, who has tickets for the Spain-Costa Rica game on Nov 23, told Dawn. For him, travelling to Qatar is also a chance to meet with his brother, who works in Doha. 'I was there for the Arab Cup [a test event for the World Cup last year], but this one is special as it's the main event.'

The flight to Doha also has a different type of fan - there are as many as 30 members of the Tableeghi Jamaat travelling - not only to watch the World Cup, but also fulfil their religious mission.

'The plan to travel to the World Cup was made during the Raiwind Ijtema last year, after we received an...

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