A break. What a concept. The World Cup gods had other ideas though. 

On Monday night, after Brazil had scorched and swayed their way into the quarter-finals with 26 minutes of effervescent attacking football at Stadium 974, most of the world had purred. The pundits hadn’t. Too much fancy footwork, railed Souness, Keane and Hamann. Midfield diggers all, they apparently wanted more dirty, less dancing. How could that be the takeaway, we wondered? How could you be so joyless as to let yourself be distracted by the celebrations and not the cause of them?

Then we got distracted ourselves and left a MacBook charger in a plug socket in the tented media centre next to the arena. It was Tuesday morning before we’d realised and the utter absurdity of this tournament came roaring back into view. Stadium 974 was “no longer operational” we were told as FIFA’s Help Desk was all desk and no help. Our noble adaptor that has powered so much tortured poetry and visits to Thesaurus.com to find any other word than Magical to go before Lionel and Messi will be right there with the 974 shipping containers and the rest of the debris as the stadium is disassembled. A grand total of 13 matches in its entire existence and just seven at this World Cup will be its lot. 

So the first morning off was spent trekking out from Doha’s old town to its newest, the futurist, absurd LED land of Lusail, on the hunt for a new charger. In this country which worked migrants to death in the name of bringing the world and its cup here, the idea of a day off hadn’t sounded right anyway. Those of us who have decamped here for 40 days and nights to chronicle it all are making no sacrifice at all. 

It’s something that you need to constantly remind yourself of. The host nation does a fine job of this anyway…so long as you’re looking. Discrimination and exploitation are so ingrained in every waking Doha moment that you can almost be lulled into seeing the world as the locals see it, which you reckon is their hope all along. Now, the footballing fare having driven us all to delight and distraction, is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the true — and ongoing — human costs of this whole carnival.

Focus on the football went the pre-tournament plea from Gianni Infantino, who has led by deed as much as word, showing up at every single one of the 56 games that got us to the last eight. He was everywhere all once, even when the simultaneous final group games were on it felt like he’d show up on the TV feed at both. Presumably he sent the Qatari, Arab and Gay version of himself to one game and the Disabled, Migrant Worker Gianni to the other. 

Just eight teams and eight games remain after the breakneck schedule crammed 56 contests into two and a half weeks. Morocco remain and, on the Wednesday morning wander through the old town en route to the metro, it was clear that their foot soldiers need their batteries juiced back up too. There was plenty of ruby red jerseys and flags visible but they were quiet, or at least quieter, now than the raucous night of nights before. 

The first World Cup in the Arab world has an Arab team in the quarter-finals — the only time this has happened in the tournament’s history. Morocco are almost everyone’s team now but especially so for anyone of African or Arab descent. Finding a flag or a jersey in the colours of the Atlas Lions among the stalls of the Souk Wakif is no joke. The market is as inflationary as the wider world now. 

We were of course, hunting something else entirely. The Lagoona Mall next to Legtaifiya metro station, two south of Lusail itself, was the destination. Resurfacing from the underground to the scorched earth of the desert, two towering reminders of how far this World Cup has come in these 17 days dominated the skyline. The images of Japanese captain Maya Yoshida and Canadian talisman Alphonso Davies hang over the entire facades of a pair of twin apartment blocks. 

Canada’s challenge lasted just four days, technically the first team sent home as they rapidly followed the host nation out of the tournament. Japan lasted much longer and almost made the breakthrough that Asian football has craved. They skittled the Germans out, beat the Spanish too and held Croatia level for 120 minutes and more. But they blinked from 12 yards. These towers are now all that remain of them here.

Morocco didn’t blink. They stared right at Spain, watched them pass themselves to death all over again and then finished them off with a fearless flick of Achraf Hakimi’s right foot. Education City had played host to another football lesson and whether Spain actually learn this time around remains to be seen. 

Luis Enrique sounded like a man who wasn’t all that upset, as it happened. His cool, borderline cheery demeanour afterwards was a bit jarring all told. He was proud that his side had set “a great example for kids on how to lose”. Steve Clarke will surely hope they’re happy to provide a refresher lesson when they pitch up to Hampden next March for Euro 2024 qualifying. 

Spain continue to produce incredible players — in just one specific area. The production line of Xavis and Iniestas is humming along. But the factory tasked with making a Raul or a David Villa has run into supply issues for too long now. The renaissance of the No.9 and the fall of the false versions has been one of the hallmarks of our journey to the quarter-finals. A line leader has proven pivotal for those who remain. Having one who can finish too, all the better. 

Olivier Giroud, Richarlison, Harry Kane and Andrej Kramaric all literally wear nine on their backs and carry much of their country’s load on their shoulders too. Argentina’s Julian Alvarez is another niner and his mid-tournament emergence has helped ease a little of the suffocating pressure on the little No.10. Cody Gakpo was given the Oranje eight jersey because Louis van Gaal, tongue affixed to cheek for half a century now, allocated squad numbers by age. The 23-year-old has been a revelation at the tip of the Dutch spear. 

Morocco’s fairytale threatened to be the dominant story of our 48-hour respite until a handful of moments after the final whistle, news filtered in from across town that CR7 had given way to GR26 in Portugal’s frontline. They were a team reborn as Gonçalo Ramos hit a hat trick and Cristiano Ronaldo ambled about for 20 minutes of garbage time before making his quick exit. 

As all eight of the contenders in the widest-open World Cup we’ve seen for the guts of 20 years look to avoid a weekend exit, their No.9’s in name or spirit will be a major factor. But there’ll be plenty more besides. The past 17 days have reminded us all that there are many, many ways to win and even more ways to lose. The head says that Brazil and France will still be here by Saturday night. The torn heart feels Van Gaal and the Dutch will be too. Neither head nor heart knows if Morocco may be but the army of souls who are with them now does give them a feeling of destiny and in a well-matched encounter that can count for a lot. How much both the Morocco team and its new territorial army can rest and recover will be key.

We did find ourselves a new power source, a snip at £40 as the gleaming luxury of the Lagoona Mall provided yet another vision of the haves and can’t-ever-haves of this hierarchal place. 

There is just a small window to recharge before Qatar’s World Cup ramps up all over again. So, get some rest. But let’s not forget that the same privilege is rarely afforded to those who built and run this show.