Synopsis: For the past year, a massive clock in Doha has been counting down to the World Cup’s opening match. Qatar and the rest of the globe no longer have to wait, as the host nation lost 2-0 to Ecuador on Sunday.
Ecuador dampens Qatar’s celebrations as the contentious World Cup begins.
For the past year, a massive clock in Doha has been counting down to the World Cup‘s opening match. Qatar and the rest of the globe no longer have to wait, after the contentious tournament as the host nation lost 2-0 to Ecuador on Sunday.
Following a dazzling opening ceremony that included Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman and BTS sensation Jung Kook, the sport itself took centre stage after being overshadowed by off-the-field issues throughout the build-up.
It was not the outcome that many in Qatar had hoped for. The host was apprehensive and struggled against an opponent with experience and talent. In reality, Ecuador was comfortably ahead 2-0 at halftime, due to two goals from Enner Valencia.
All of the pre-match energy steadily faded from the stadium in the second half, and there were significantly more empty seats as some spectators appeared to have had enough.
Festivity in ambiance
The closer we got to Sunday’s game in Doha, the more ecstatic the fans in this city were. On Saturday night, a spectacular firework display lit up the sky, and Qataris used to social media to express their excitement over hosting one of sport’s biggest events.
Fans from all over the world have converged in Doha’s downtown squares over the previous three days to sing, yell, and wave their national flags, creating a beautiful atmosphere.
On match day, the festive atmosphere carried over from the city centre to the newly constructed Al Bayt Stadium, which hosted the opening match of this historic World Cup, the first to be held in the Middle East.
It felt like any other major international tournament at moments, but the build-up to this event was, of course, unlike any other.
Corruption scandals engulfed FIFA, the world football’s governing body, after it granted Qatar the event in 2010 – but Qatari officials have previously “strongly refuted” bribery charges to CNN.
For more than a decade, and more as the tournament approached, the pre-tournament build-up has focused on the country’s human rights record, including the deaths of migrant labourers and the hardships many have faced in Qatar, as well as its LGBTQ legislation and the position of women in society. The country’s last-minute prohibition on alcohol in World Cup stadiums has grabbed international news.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s stunning news conference on the eve of the first game revealed how little on-field problems have been discussed thus far.
On Saturday, FIFA President Sepp Blatter addressed hundreds of journalists in Doha, Qatar, and began the news conference with a nearly hour-long statement in which he accused Western critics of hypocrisy and racism.
Those engaged in the competition have received a lot of flak. Colombian singer Maluma, who sings the official World Cup hymn, walked out of an Israeli television interview when asked about the Gulf state’s human rights record.
The opening ceremony itself was heavily focused on unity, with performances honouring all of the countries participating in this year’s tournament.
VAR enters the picture.
While the focus of pre-match interest was undoubtedly on the host nation, Qatar’s opponents also had a story to tell, as their participation in the tournament was only guaranteed a few weeks ago following a legal fight with rivals Chile.
It centred on Bryon Castillo’s eligibility, which rivals claimed made him unable to represent Ecuador due to reports he was born in Colombia. The dispute was referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled Castillo qualified, but he was not included to his country’s World Cup roster for Qatar 2022. The club doesn’t appear to miss Castillo based on their performance on Sunday.
The raucous Ecuadorian fans were celebrating minutes after the game began when it appeared their team had taken the lead. Valencia headed in from close range, but the goal was ruled offside by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
Just minutes later, the yellow shirts were ecstatic as Valencia put his team ahead from the spot. Saad Al Sheeb, the goalkeeper, had fouled the striker as he attempted to skip past him.
The captain doubled his tally before the halftime break, directing a bullet header into the bottom corner as Qatar appeared to be lacking confidence and belief.
Now that the action has begun, organisers expect that emphasis will shift away from human rights and other off-field concerns. However, the legacy of this tournament will not be determined on the field. Instead, it will be decided by genuine change and the betterment of the lives of those who contributed to it.
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