World Cup 2022: Qatar and FIFA hope criticisms end when tournament begins

meziesblog Qatar

For all the controversies leading up to this World Cup, and there have been many, Saturday night in Doha was a night for the fans.

Around 40,000 gathered in the city’s main fan zone to welcome in a tournament, the like of which we’ve never seen before.

The first football World Cup in a Muslim country, the first in the Middle East, the first to be held in a European winter.

The crowd, although mostly Qatari, was international in colour – Mexicans, Argentinians, Brazilians, Palestinians, Tunisians, Ecuadorians, and the occasional English shirt.

The beer stalls, hidden in a back corner, are one of the few public places fans can now buy and drink alcohol – there was a rush for the front when they opened.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino, whose news conference earlier in the day was a lengthy and ill-judged rant against the media, led the crowd in a countdown to the official opening.

Marcel Desailly, Roberto Carlos and Marco Materazzi joined other FIFA legends on stage.

Fireworks and a drone display lit up the Corniche. A DJ mixed local and western dance tunes and the crowd, young and older, dances. I could barely hear the London studio as we went live.

Out on the streets, it still feels a little quiet though. If the expected 1.2 million fans are coming to Qatar over the next month, then most are yet to arrive.

Scandals and questions to one side, this was a moment ordinary Qatari residents have been looking forward to for years. As a spectacle, it delivered for them.

FIFA and Qatar will surely hope when the football starts, later today, the criticism will end, or at least be temporarily forgotten. They may get their wish.

Today (at 4pm UK time) the hosts play Ecuador – a win for Qatar, and this place will erupt. They haven’t enjoyed the international criticism, and they want to prove the world wrong.

In so many ways, it’s a World Cup like no other.

The excitement might be finally building, but it’s yet to feel normal.