Doha (AFP) – Traffic police nervously watched a World Cup crowd make a mark in Qatar’s capital Wednesday as FIFA set the scene for even bigger gatherings at the event by announcing that 800,000 tickets have already been sold.

Security conscious Qatar authorities had wanted to keep big groups from nine newly-qualified countries — Cameroon, Canada, Ecuador, Ghana, Morocco, Poland, Portugal, Senegal and Tunisia — away from a flag raising ceremony on a seafront plaza where a World Cup countdown clock showed 236 days to kick off.

“The embassy regrets to inform Canadian soccer fans that due to space constraints, we have been advised that spectators will not be allowed to participate in the flag raising ceremony,” the Canadian embassy said in a social media post.

But organisers and ambassadors were given a noisy surprise when more than 200 chanting, banner waving fans from Qatar’s migrant worker communities — and 50 media — took over the plaza in a boisterous but peaceful and happy show of World Cup fever.

Football songs heard in stadiums around the world, but rarely in Doha, rang out as the flags went up. Nobody held back the fans.

“It is a day of joy,” said Adnan Zakaria, one of the 20,000 Moroccans in Qatar, who strutted about with a Moroccan flag and national team shirt around his shoulders. 

“We are going to win, we are going to win,” he shouted.

“It is the first World Cup in an Arab country and we are Arabs so we are celebrating,” added one of his fellow supporters.

“There are only 250 Senegalese here,” said the African country’s ambassador Mouhamed Habibou Diallo. 

“But our people will come from Senegal and the other Gulf states. People will hear us when the tournament starts.”

There are about 700 Poles, 9,200 Canadians, 3,200 Cameroonians and 600 people from Ghana in Qatar, according to their embassies, and all expect a huge influx for the tournament which runs from November 21 to December 18.

Qatar is predicting that more than 1.2 million people will visit the energy-rich Gulf state for the first World Cup to be held in an Arab country.

Nasser Al Khater, chief executive of Qatar’s World Cup organising committee, said the crowd was a sign of the growing expectations. 

“There is a lot of excitement, a bit of apprehension as well, but that is healthy,” he told AFP.

FIFA said meanwhile that 804,186 of the three million World Cup tickets had gone in the first round of sales. Fans in Qatar the United States, England, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Germany, India, Brazil, Argentina and Saudi Arabia were the top 10 buyers.

A second round of sales will open on April 5. Demand is expected to be higher as supporters will know the groups and match schedule after the World Cup draw is held on Friday.