What you need to know:
- Qatar had gained the dubious distinction of the first host nation to lose the opening match in the 22-edition history of the quadrennial world tournament.
- But the hosts had amply welcomed the world with the proud display of a beautiful, ultra-modern stadium, one of eight that will stage the 64 World Cup matches over the next one month.
After 12 years of preparations, Qatar could heave a sigh of relief that the 2022 World Cup had kicked off.
“Amir Welcomes all: the beautiful games begins”, was the banner headline in one of Qatar’s leading daily newspapers, the broadsheet Gulf Times yesterday.
“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,” said the Qatari leader His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in his speech at the Al Bayt Stadium where the opening ceremony and first match of the tournament featuring Qatar against Ecuador was held.
“From Qatar, from an Arab country, I welcome everyone to the World Cup2022. We have worked hard, along with many people, to make it one of the most successful tournaments. We have exerted all efforts and invested for the good of all humanity.
“Finally we have reached the opening day,” the father of the tiny Gulf nations said.
After the doubts and the criticism, the action on the pitch had finally begun, and the soul of football, the people turned out in large numbers.
The Al Bayt stadium’s official capacity is 60,000, but the sold out attendance on match day one was 67,372, composed of mainly local Qataris dressed in their traditional, long flowing thobe and gahfiya (hat) and a small but vociferous band of Ecuadorian fans prominent in their bright yellow.
Getting to Al Bayt from Doha – a 40-minute drive, on Thika Super Highway-kind of roads, only neater and more organised, was smooth until several kilometres from the venue where traffic snarl ups and delays were the order of the day.
For the spectators, it did not matter this was the time for the beautiful game to begin, the ultimate prize being to be crowned the kings of world football.
After a dazzling opening ceremony displaying Qatari traditions together with global culture, perhaps attempting to bring all world cultures together, united in football.
Not many Qataris on the streets were confident in this the first World Cup for their teams and their fears were confirmed three minutes into the game when Enner Valancia headed home only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
But outmuscled and outplayed from the opening minute, it was always a question of when rather than if the home side would concede a goal, a legitimate one this time.
It came 10 minutes later when Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb brought down Valancia.
The Fenerbahçe forward got up, dusted himself and then slotted slot home the spot kick for the opening match of the first World Cup in the Arab world.
This was pretty match a one sided affair with Qatar making just one attempt on goal the entire match.
Valancia but the game to bed with a beautiful header in the 33rd minute to ensure three vital points for Ecuador who will be eyeing qualification to the round of 16 in a group that also has favourites Netherlands and Africa’s hope Senegal.
Moments after the final whistle the stands were left virtually empty as the disappointed local supporters walked away while the ecstatic Ecuadorians partied to their victory.
Qatar had gained the dubious distinction of the first host nation to lose the opening match in the 22-edition history of the quadrennial world tournament.
But the hosts had amply welcomed the world with the proud display of a beautiful, ultra-modern stadium, one of eight that will stage the 64 World Cup matches over the next one month.