Ecuador discourages Qatar’s party as the controversial World Cup kicks off

Al Khor, Qatar

Over the past year, a giant clock in Doha has counted down to the opening match of the World Cup. Qatar and the world need to wait some more, after this controversial tournament kicked off on Sunday, as the host country lost 2-0 to Ecuador.

After a stunning opening ceremony, starring Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman and BTS star Jung Kook, sport itself is finally taking center stage after off-court things get overshadowed during the build-up.

It was not the outcome that many in Qatar had hoped for. The host seemed nervous and suffered in front of an opponent with experience and quality. In truth, the game was over by the end of the first half, with Ecuador comfortably leading 2-0 thanks to two goals from Enier Valencia.

All the excitement before the game slowly faded away from the field in the second half and there were noticeably more empty seats as some fans seemed to have had enough.

The closer we get to kick-off on Sunday in Doha, the more excited the fans in this city get. A spectacular fireworks display lit up the sky on Saturday evening, and social media exploded with Qataris excited about hosting one of sporting’s biggest events.

Over the past few days, fans from all over the world have gathered in the squares in downtown Doha to sing, chant and wave their national flags, creating a great atmosphere.

The festival spirit continued on match day, from the city center to the newly constructed Al Bayt Stadium, which hosted the opening match of the historic World Cup, the first to be held in the Middle East.

People watch fireworks go off before the World Cup kicks off at Al Bayt Stadium.

At times, it felt like any other major international tournament, but the preparation for this event, of course, was unlike any other.

Corruption scandals plagued FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, after it awarded Qatar the tournament in 2010 – although Qatari officials had previously “vehemently denied” to CNN allegations of bribery surrounding its bid.

For more than a decade, and increasingly as the tournament nears launch, pre-tournament preparations have focused on the country’s human rights record, from the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions suffered by many in Qatar, as well as LGBTQ and LGBTQ laws. The role of women in their society. The country’s last-minute alcohol ban at World Cup stadiums also made headlines around the world.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s impressive press conference on the eve of the opening match showed just how little the on-field problems have been so far.

The FIFA president addressed hundreds of journalists in Doha on Saturday, and the press conference began with a speech that lasted about an hour, during which he accused Western critics of hypocrisy and racism.

The participants in the tournament faced a lot of criticism. Colombian singer Maluma, who was featured on the official World Cup anthem, withdrew from an interview on Israeli television when he was questioned about the Gulf country’s human rights record.

The opening ceremony focused heavily on unity, with performances giving a nod to all the countries playing in this year’s tournament.

While the pre-match interest was inevitably on the hosts, Qatar’s opponents also had a story to tell as their place in the tournament was confirmed just weeks earlier after being embroiled in a legal dispute with rivals Chile.

It centered around the eligibility of BriĆ³n Castillo who, competitors argued, is ineligible to represent Ecuador due to allegations that he was born in Colombia. The case was referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which deemed Castillo eligible, but despite this, he was not included in his country’s squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. On Sunday’s presentation, the team did not seem to miss Castillo.

Valencia scores past Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb to score Ecuador's opening goal.

Minutes into the match, the raucous Ecuadorean crowd celebrated after it appeared their team had advanced. And Valencia hit a header from close range, but the video assistant referee considered that Valencia was offside and canceled the goal.

But just minutes later, the yellow shirts celebrated again as Valencia put their side ahead from the penalty spot. Goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb missed the attack while trying to pass him.

The captain doubled his tally before half-time, steering a shot into the bottom corner as Qatar looked to lack confidence and faith.

Now that the work is underway, organizers hope attention will shift away from human rights and other issues outside the field. But, in truth, the legacy of this tournament will not be determined on the field. Instead, it will be defined by real change and improvement in the lives of the people who helped make it happen.

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