FIFA WC 2022: As Qatar and Ecuador took to the field, World Cup officially began
Qatar, home to 3 million people, most of them migrant workers, has spent more than $200 billion on preparation for the World Cup.
Published: 20th November 2022 10:58 PM | Last Updated: 21st November 2022 01:32 AM | A+A A-
AL KHOR, Qatar: The first World Cup in the Middle East finally began Sunday night with a flashy opening ceremony and a match between Qatar and Ecuador without any beer for sale in the stadium.
Taste of Class
However, Ecuador's striker Enner Valencia gave the host a taste of a slice of class by scoring both goals for his team in their 2-0 victory in the kick-off match of the World Cup.
The beer ban imposed two days before the start of the tournament was the latest controversial snag for a global event already under scrutiny for Qatar’s human rights record and the emirates’ frantic push to ready the nation for the most compact World Cup in history.
Thousands of attendees were turned away from a Saturday night concert in the official fan zone because of overcrowding, as 1.2 million visitors are expected to begin arriving this week to the tiny nation on the Arabian Peninsula.
Show Me The Money
Awarding the World Cup to Qatar has been a financial boon to FIFA as the governing body of soccer said it earned record revenues of $7.5 billion in the four years of commercial deals tied to this year’s tournament.
The money haul is $1 billion more than income from the previous commercial cycle of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The extra money this year was boosted by local sponsorship deals, including Qatar Energy, which joined as a top-tier sponsor. Qatari bank QNB and telecoms firm Ooredoo are also sponsors.
New to the sponsorship packages this year is crypto.com, the first new American sponsor in more than a decade.
Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman extended one yellow-gloved hand to a FIFA World Cup ambassador suffering from a rare spinal disorder in an image meant to represent inclusion in a country facing international criticism over its human rights record.
It wasn’t the biggest moment of Sunday’s seven-act World Cup opening ceremony ahead of the match between host country Qatar and Ecuador. The largest cheers were reserved for the Mideast and African leaders watching from their luxury suites in Bedouin-tent inspired Al Bayt Stadium.
In fact, it was Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who drew thunderous applause in a short speech delivered in Arabic from the suite. He was seated between FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who secured the World Cup for the tiny gulf nation 12 years ago.
“How beautiful it is for people to put aside what divides them in order to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together at the same time,” Sheikh Tamim said, his words translated into English on a video screen inside the stadium.
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“I wish all the participating teams a magnificent football performance, high sportsmanship, and a time full of joy, excitement and delight for you all,” he continued. “And let there be days that are inspiring with goodness and hope.”
He then said, “I welcome you and good luck to all,” in his only words spoken in English.
Sheikh Hamad, viewed as the modernizer of Qatar during his 18 years as ruler, further delighted the crowd by autographing an official World Cup shirt handed to him by his son. He then held the shirt up to the crowd.
Qatar, home to 3 million people, most of them migrant workers, has spent more than $200 billion on preparation for the World Cup. Seven new stadiums were built, including the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium north of Doha.
The opening ceremony was meant to introduce Qatar to the world through its culture with a theme of “bridging distances.” Creative director Ahmad Al Baker wanted the ceremony to signify “a gathering for all mankind, an invitation to come together as one, bridging all differences with humanity, respect and inclusion.”
It hit the mark when Sheikh Tamim was joined in the stadium suite by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, two leaders who had boycotted Qatar for years. Not present were the leaders of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the two other nations involved in the boycott.
There were no major Western leaders in attendance, as Qatar is under intense scrutiny for its treatment of the migrant workers who prepped the nation for the World Cup, as well as the LGBTQ community. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalized in Qatar.
But among those who did attend the opening match were U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Kuwait’s crown prince came, along with the director-general of the World Health Organization and Djibouti’s president. Also present was Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
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They listened as BTS’ Jung Kook, while Qatari singer and producer Fahad Al Kubaisi debuted the single “Dreamers,” produced specifically for the World Cup.
Then came remarks from Infantino, who spoke in Arabic, Spanish and finally English to officially open the tournament.
“Dear friends, welcome, welcome, to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” Infantino said in English. “Welcome to celebrate football because football unites the world. And now let’s welcome the teams and let the show begin.”
As “The Business” by Tiesto blasted over the speakers, Qatar and Ecuador took to the field and the World Cup officially began.
Two of the best players in the world were ruled out of the tournament with injuries before it even began.
France striker Karim Benzema, the Ballon d’Or winner, is out after hurting his left thigh during training on Saturday. Senegal forward Sadio Mane, runner-up to Benzema in voting for world player of the year, is out with a leg injury he picked up last week while playing for Bayern Munich.
Previously, France midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante were ruled out, as was Germany striker Timo Werner. Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku and South Korea captain Son Heung-min arrived in Qatar with lingering injuries.