Al Khor, Qatar
For the past year, a giant clock in Doha has been counting down to the opening match world Cup. Qatar and the world need not wait any longer controversial tournament The hosts lost 2-0 to Ecuador on Sunday.
After a glitzy opening ceremony that featured the likes of Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman and BTS star Jung Kook, the games finally took center stage after overseeing off-the-pitch affairs during the build-up.
This was not the result many in Qatar would have hoped for. The hosts looked nervous and struggled against opposition with experience and quality. In fact, the game was over by half-time, with Ecuador leading comfortably 2–0 thanks to two goals from Enner Valencia.
In the second half all the pre-match excitement slowly faded away from the stadium and there were far more empty seats as it seemed some fans had had enough.
The closer we get to Sunday’s kickoff in Doha, the more excited the fans in this city get. A spectacular fireworks display lit up the sky on Saturday night and social media exploded, with Qataris showing their excitement about hosting one of sport’s biggest events.
Over the past few days, fans from all over the world have created a spectacular atmosphere in Doha city squares singing, chanting and waving their national flags.
That festive spirit continued on match day, from the city center to the newly built Al Bayt Stadium, which hosted the opening match of this historic World Cup, the first to be held in the Middle East.
At times, it has felt like any other major international tournament, but certainly the preparation for this event has been unlike any other.
Corruption scandals plagued FIFA, world football’s governing body, after it awarded the tournament to Qatar in 2010 – although Qatari officials had previously “strongly denied”
For more than a decade, and increasingly as kickoff draws closer, pre-tournament build-up has focused on the country’s human rights record, from the deaths of migrant workers and the plight of many in Qatar, along only its LGBTQ Law and the role of women in our society. The country’s last-minute alcohol ban in World Cup stadiums also made headlines around the world.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s remarkable press conference on the eve of the opening game demonstrated how little on-field issues have had an impact so far.
The FIFA boss addressed hundreds of journalists in Doha on Saturday and opened the news conference with a nearly hour-long speech during which he accused Western critics of hypocrisy and racism.
The people involved in the tournament have faced a lot of criticism. Colombian singer Maluma, who appears in the official World Cup anthem, walked out of an interview on Israeli television when she was questioned about the Gulf state’s human rights record.
The opening ceremony itself focused heavily on unity, with performances from all the nations playing in this year’s tournament.
While the pre-match focus was essentially on the host country, Qatar’s opponents also had a story to tell As its place in the tournament had only been confirmed weeks earlier, it was involved in a legal dispute with rivals Chile.
It centered around the eligibility of Brian Castillo, whose rivals argued he was ineligible to represent Ecuador over claims he was born in Colombia. The matter was referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which deemed Castillo eligible, but despite this, he was not included in his country’s World Cup squad for Qatar 2022.
Minutes after the start of play, raucous Ecuadorian fans were celebrating when it appeared their side had taken the lead. Valencia headed in from close range but the video assistant referee (VAR) ruled Valencia was offside and disallowed the goal.
But minutes later, the yellow shirts were celebrating again as Valencia put their side ahead from the penalty spot. The forward was fouled by goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb as he attempted to get past him.
The skipper doubled his tally before the end of the first half, guiding a bullet header into the bottom corner as Qatar looked short of confidence and belief.
Now that the action is underway, the organizers will hope that attention will be diverted from human rights and other off-field issues. But, in truth, the legacy of this tournament will not be decided on the pitch. Instead, it will be judged by the real change and improvement in the lives of those who helped make it possible.