Qatar World Cup starts with stakes high for hosts

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Cheers went up as Qatar’s team appeared for their opening match

The World Cup kicked off in Qatar on Sunday with the Muslim nation, which faced a barrage of criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, LGBT rights and social restrictions, staking its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament.

In a show of solidarity, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, are among the leaders at the opening ceremony in a tent-shaped stadium ahead of the first match between the hosts and Ecuador.

Qatar, which has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination, and FIFA hope the spotlight will now turn to act on the pitch. Organisers have also denied allegations of bribery for hosting rights.

Inside Al Bayt cheers went up as Qatar’s team appeared for their opening match. Onstage, singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS performed a new tournament song, alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.

The football tournament, the first held in the Middle East and the most expensive in its history, is a culmination of Qatar’s soft power push, after a 3-1/2 year boycott by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which ended in 2021. The UAE sent its vice president who is also the ruler of Dubai.

For the first time, a direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Doha landed in Qatar on Sunday despite the absence of formal bilateral ties, in a deal brokered by FIFA to carry both Palestinians and Israelis to the tournament.

The Gulf state’s Deputy Prime Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah, in remarks on state media, said Qatar was reaping the benefits of years of “hard work and sound planning”.

On Saturday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino rounded on European critics of Qatar, saying engagement was the only way to improve rights, while Doha has also pointed to labour reforms.

Denmark’s and Germany’s team captains will wear One Love armbands as they prepare to compete in a conservative Muslim state where same-sex relations are illegal.

Organisers say all are welcome while warning against public affection.

Throngs of fans were already arriving in Qatar but the main rush will be later this week.

Daniel Oordt from Holland, clad in orange, told Reuters there was a feeling of “constant pressure around you not to say the wrong thing or make the wrong move”. “It’s not a fun atmosphere to have at a World Cup.”

Argentina fan Julio Cesar though said he expected a great atmosphere. “We’ll drink before the match,” he added after alcohol sales at stadiums were banned.

Host nation Qatar becomes the first World Cup host in history to lose its opening game of the tournament, crashing to a 2-0 defeat to Ecuador as the football showpiece kicks off.

Two first-half goals from veteran striker Enner Valencia sealed a deserved Group A victory for Ecuador as Qatar’s first-ever World Cup finals match ends in disappointment.

Qatari fans began filing out of the Al Bayt Stadium long before the final whistle after a dominant display from the Ecuadorans.

Today (Monday) England will face Iran at 6:00pm while Senegal will play against Netherlands at 9:00pm.

 

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