Thousands of England fans have descended on Qatar and have managed to sniff out £12 pints ahead of the team’s first match of the World Cup today – but some told MailOnline their trips have cost £50,000 and criticised the lack of atmosphere in Doha before the big game.
Supporters packed out hotels, sports bars and Irish pubs before heading to the Khalifa Stadium for the 1pm kick off UK time where booze has been banned by the Gulf state’s Emir at the 11th hour.
Back home in England pubs started filling up at dawn this morning with supporters. Bosses are expected to let staff watch the match at work or home or face a flurry of staff calling in sick or bunking off. One in ten schools are expected to show the game in class.
This morning supporters in Qatar are already drinking booze despite its sale being strictly controlled in the Muslim country. Videos showed them downing drinks and singing songs in the hours before the Three Lions’ big game.
Around 4,000 England supporters are believed to heading to Qatar for the World Cup with around 2,800 expected to be in the ground to watch Gareth Southgate’s men play in a match they are widely expected to win.
But the stadium is unlikely to packed out in a way England games at major tournaments usually are with the host’s opening match only a third full after they were easily beaten by Ecuador last night.
There were also empty seats at the opening ceremony featuring Morgan Freeman and attended by the Qatari royals, VIPs including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, David Beckham and FIFA delegates. The show, which promised that football is for everyone, reportedly cost £10million to put together.
Gareth Southgate’s today faces the most politically-charged World Cup match in its history today when they face Iran.
England’s team have confirmed that they will take the knee before they kick off against Iran. All eyes will be on the Iranian team and whether any rebel players will give any scissor-like gesture to support the women of Iran amid mass protests in their country. There are also calls for England players to do it by the families of Britons held by the Tehran regime.
Carole Brocklesby, 59, from Hull told MailOnline: ‘Everyone is behind England. There aren’t that many fans here. But my husband, Paul and I just had to come. We’ve spent about £50,000, but worth every penny if we win the World Cup’.
Her husband Paul, 68, said: ‘Every England fan here in Qatar has paid a lot of money and really loves the players and the team.
‘Obviously our supporters are behind them. But if Harry Kane gets himself booked twice, because of the armband, then I’m afraid I don’t agree with that. It’s about the team and their supporters and trying to win the trophy.’
The English Football Association remain in the dark over whether captain Harry Kane will be booked if he wears the controversial ‘OneLove’ armband in England’s World Cup opener against Iran today following heated talks here in Doha on Sunday night.
Many bookmakers have suspended betting on Harry Kane being the first booking in the Iran match after thousands piled on the cash.
But in a sign that the FA may change their minds, chief executive Mark Bullingham told BBC Radio 4 that if the ‘sporting sanctions’ threat from FIFA is genuine – and Kane faces a yellow card – then England will have to see if there is ‘another way to show our values’ rather than wear the armband. Mr Bullingham suggested that if the punishment is a fine then they will pay it so Kane can wear it.
Paul and Carole Brocklesby from Hull in Qatar today on a trip that has cost them £50,000 – but said it will be ‘worth it’ if England win
Supporter John Booth lines up the beers in a Qatar pub as the Three Lions begin their World Cup campaign today
Thousands of England fans have descended on Qatar and have managed to sniff out £12 pints ahead of the first match of the World Cup.
Thousands of England fans are in Qatar for the match – although this is expected to peak for the Wales game
Alex Major and his father John before England’s big game today
Videos showed England supporters downing drinks and singing songs in the hours before the game.
Fans enjoy drinks before the game with around 3,000 supporters in Doha for the match
An England fan adjusts his headdress at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha
England’s Harry Kane during a training session at the Al Wakrah Sports Club Stadium yesterday
Harry Kane has already been pictured wearing the OneLove armband while training in Qatar, ahead of England’s match against Iran. The English Football Association remain in the dark over whether captain Harry Kane will be booked if he wears the controversial ‘OneLove’ armband
Former England captain David Beckham, who has come under criticism for his role as an ambassador for Qatar, was pictured in one of the executive boxes at the stadium
‘Stop this insufferable virtue signalling!’ Viewers accuse Gary Lineker and Alex Scott of ‘hypocrisy’ as they give impassioned speeches about Qatar human rights record – from studio in stadium
BBC’s Gary Lineker addressed the human right’s issues in Qatar in his opening monologue at the start of the organisation’s coverage
Viewers of the first World Cup match have accused the BBC of brazen ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘virtue signalling’ as pundits launched into a segment about controversies and human rights issue in Qatar, while broadcasting live from a stadium in Doha as the tournament got underway on Sunday.
Gary Lineker’s opening monologue for BBC’s introduction to the World Cup addressed the human rights record in Qatar immediately. The controversial competition kicked off today with the host nation facing Ecuador in Group A, with the game live on the BBC.
He had previously been criticised, along with other football commentators and journalists, for agreeing to attend and be paid for the tournament in Qatar given its deeply conservative stance on issues such as gay rights.
Alan Shearer, Alex Scott and Ashley Williams were working as pundits and also addressed Qatar’s behaviour since being handed the tournament.
The BBC showed the first live game, but opted only to show the opening ceremony, which featured disgraced actor Morgan Freeman, online.
Football fans reacted with anger to today’s coverage and said they simply wanted to watch the matches, pointing out that if the presenters were so concerned over human rights issues they could simply have refused to fly there instead.
It is just one of multiple controversies to hit the tournament prior to kick-off, including a ban on alcohol in stadiums and the choice of Morgan Freeman to contribute to the opening ceremony.
One social media user said: ‘Gary Lineker on BBC News talking about the lack of human rights in Qatar. All while he’s sitting there and taking the money. The hypocrisy of the guy knows no bounds!’
Other supporters also expressed their concern that talisman Kane could miss some of the World Cup, if he carries out his wish to wear a rainbow coloured armband in support of gay people in Qatar, where homosexuality is forbidden and punished by the law.
Alex Major, 20, from North London said: ‘Good for Harry Kane, but if he gets booked in two games, he’ll be suspended and that’s too much of a price to pay.’ The Arsenal fan added: ‘It could damage our World Cup hopes and cost us a lot.’
His father, John added: ‘I have been to a lot of world cups. But the excitement of this one is just not the same.
‘I admire Harry Kane for taking a stance. But I wouldn’t be very happy if we ended up missing the match. He’s our best player. We need every player to fight as best as they can to bring the World Cup home.’
Asked about Kane’s wearing of the arm band, she said: ‘We should keep politics out of sport. This is all about winning the World Cup. Harry Kane should be concentrating on football. If he gets banned for wearing this armband, it’s not worth it.’
The FA have spent the last few hours in discussions with FIFA and the other eight nations who have committed to wearing the armband to find clarity over an issue that has overshadowed the start of England’s tournament. Those discussions have been described as ‘less than amicable’ by one source this morning.
The governing body, who confirmed England’s players will take the knee during the tournament, are determined for skipper Kane to wear the armband as a gesture of equality at a tournament that has been shrouded in negativity over Qatar’s human rights record. Homosexuality is outlawed in the host nation.
However, there is increasing concern about the possibility of Kane being shown a yellow carded if he wears the armband as planned because doing so would contravene FIFA’s laws.
English football executives have sought clarity from FIFA about the punishments that could be meted out if they follow through with their decision – but they are yet to hear anything definitive.
FIFA have detailed laws regarding apparel used by players during matches and Kane wearing the armband would not meet their regulations.
The FA expected a fine for breaching FIFA’s statutes but the prospect of Kane – arguably England’s most important player – being booked, and hence face suspension, was a scenario English football’s governing body were concerned about.
Kane said: ‘We have made it clear as a team, staff and organisation that we want to wear the armband. I know the FA are talking to FIFA and by game time they will have had their decision.
Head coach Gareth Southgate added: ‘I know there are some conversations going on. A number of the European countries have spoken. We have made our position clear, so hopefully everything will be resolved before the game.’
England are one of nine countries wearing the ‘One Love’ armband.
Indeed, news of a possible booking also reached the Germany and Holland camp yesterday.
Holland skipper Virgil van Dijk said ahead of his side’s game versus Senegal: ‘Nothing changed from our point of view.
‘If I will get a yellow card for wearing it then we would have to discuss it because I don’t like to play while being on a yellow.’
The latest row comes after the competition got off to a tumultuous start on Sunday as it was officially opened by Morgan Freeman in a spectacular opening ceremony.
The actor, 85, who four years ago apologised following accusations of sexual harassment, raised eyebrows narrated a toe-curling segment titled The Calling, telling hundreds of millions of people watching around the world: ‘We all gather here in one big tribe.’
When the action on the pitch finally began, two seconds early as the referee did not wait for the stadium countdown to be over, there was bad news for the host nation.
Watched by the Gulf state’s royals and David Beckham, the home side lost 0-2 to Ecuador, whose fans mocked Qatar’s alcohol ban by chanting ‘queremos cerveza’, or ‘we want beer’. Beckham, who has been criticised for being a paid ambassador to the Qatar World Cup, watched from the VIP seats.
The oil-rich nation has faced a barrage of criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, LGBT rights and social restrictions, staking its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament. It has been accused of trying to stage manage the World Cup with ‘fake fans’ to spin positive coverage.
The Football Association, who also confirmed England’s players will take the knee during the tournament, are determined for skipper Kane to wear the armband as a gesture of equality at a tournament that has been overshadowed in negativity over Qatar’s human rights record.
However, FA chiefs were on Sunday night concerned about the possibility of Kane being shown a yellow card if he wears the armband as planned because doing so would contravene FIFA’s laws.
In parts of the stadium the majority of seats were left empty for the second half of the match between Ecuador and Qatar
England coach Gareth Southgate said he hopes ‘everything will be resolved before the game’ and said the team had made their feelings on the matter clear
Rows of empty seats were visible behind Morgan Freeman as he narrates the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Qatar
There were scores of empty seats in the stadium during the opening ceremony of FIFA World Cup ahead of the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador
Disgraced actor Morgan Freeman (left) performed the opening segment with World Cup ambassador and Qatari citizen Ghanim al-Muftah (right)
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (left) waves to the crowd as he arrives with FIFA President Gianni Infantino (right) for the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
What is the OneLove armband?
Nine countries including England and Wales had planned to sport the OneLove armband for this year’s tournament.
The armband has its roots in the Netherlands and is designed to promote diversity and inclusion with football.
In 2021, Georginio Wijnaldum wore the armband at a European Championship game in Hungary with the consent of UEFA, the governing body of European football.
It is a white armband with a heart emblazoned on it, accompanied by the words ‘One’ and ‘Love’.
The armband was designed to advocate for the rights of the LGBT+ community, among other marginalised groups within football, and to support equality for all.
Although it has a core message related to the LGBT+ community, it is far more than that, and represents a call to respect everyone’s human rights regardless of age, race, sexual or gender identity, nationality or disability.
English football executives are seeking clarity from FIFA about the punishments that could be meted out if they follow through with their decision.
The FA had expected a fine for breaching FIFA’s statutes but the prospect of Kane being booked, and hence facing a suspension, was a scenario English football’s governing body were concerned about.
Kane said: ‘We have made it clear as a team, staff and organisation that we want to wear the armband. I know the FA are talking to FIFA and by game time they will have had their decision.’
Head coach Gareth Southgate added: ‘I know there are some conversations going on. A number of the European countries have spoken. We have made our position clear, so hopefully everything will be resolved before the game.’
The England vowed to lift the gloom back home and ‘bring some real happiness’. He pledged to ‘deliver’ for England – and also promised that the team had been practising penalties, to avoid the traditional misery the team inflicts on the nation.
England are one of nine countries wearing the ‘One Love’ armband. Indeed, news of a possible booking also reached the Germany and Holland camp.
Holland skipper Virgil van Dijk said ahead of his side’s game versus Senegal: ‘Nothing changed from our point of view. If I will get a yellow card for wearing it then we would have to discuss it because I don’t like to play while being on a yellow.’
The teams are understood to be putting pressure on FIFA to allow the armbands due to the conservative social norms that exist in Qatar. But FIFA have already been forced to give in to Qatari officials on key promises such as alcohol sales in a bid to keep the hosts on side.
Yesterday, thousands of empty seats could be seen during the ceremony, but after the opening match kicked off at 4pm UK time, the stadium – designed to resemble a traditional Bedouin tent – appeared to suddenly fill, with many seats taken by the show’s performers.
Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, presided over the ceremony, flanked by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who has drawn ridicule by branding European nations racist – and saying he understood discrimination because he grew up with ginger hair and freckles.
Last night’s glitzy show, also featuring Jung Kook of South Korean boy band BTS, was intended to draw a line under the controversies. But even as it unfolded, riot police were called to tackle crowd chaos at a fan zone in the capital.
A crush of tens of thousands of fans pushed and shoved against police lines to enter the Fifa Fan Festival on Doha’s Corniche, which has a giant TV screen for viewing matches and a beer tent. Riot police armed with batons and shields stood guard as supporters pleaded with officers to let them through. ‘It’s very risky – people could die,’ said one, Hatem El-Berarri.
He said: ‘Old people, women, they cannot handle crowds like this.’ In a further blow to organisers, Colombian star Maluma, who sings on the World Cup’s official anthem, stormed out of a TV interview after being accused of ‘whitewashing’ human rights abuses in Qatar.
During the show, in a pointed riposte to criticism over Qatar’s human rights record, Freeman put on an act with 20-year-old entrepreneur and influencer Ghanim al Muftah, who was born with caudal regression syndrome, a rare disorder which impairs the development of the lower spine.
He said to the Hollywood star: ‘Come on over.’ When Freeman replied ‘I’m not sure, am I welcome?’, al Muftah said: ‘We sent out the call because everyone is welcome. This is an invitation to the whole world.’ Freeman, whose films include Hollywood classic The Shawshank Redemption, told crowds in the Al Bayt stadium: ‘How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together, if only one way is accepted?’
Last week, Qatar’s Supreme Committee, run by the country’s morality sheikhs, slapped a last-minute ban on beer in the stadiums.
Yesterday official sponsor Budweiser released a photo of tens of thousands of cans stacked in a warehouse, offering to give it all away to the World Cup winners. Morgan’s appearance at the ceremony comes four years after he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight women and issued an apology to ‘anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected’ by his behaviour, saying it was ‘never my intent’.
Football fans reacted with fury on social media, with one remarking acidly: ‘It is so disappointing to see Morgan Freeman take the money and support an oppressive regime.’ Qatar last night said the crowd incident arose after the main gate was temporarily closed because the venue had reached capacity early.
Fans drink beer during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Fan Festival at Al Bidda Park on November 20
South Korean singer Jung Kook performs during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha
Supporters watch the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha
Fans of Qatar cheer at tribune during FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
General view of the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 group A Opening Match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, 20 November
Performers perform during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
A drummer performs during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
Three Camels, together with their handlers during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor. Picture date: Sunday November 20, 2022
David Beckham looks on from an executive box Qatar v Ecuador, FIFA World Cup 2022, Group A, Football, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar
Morgan Freeman and Ghanim al Muftah during the opening ceremony. Supporters have now arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20
Former Argentina and World Cup winner Diego Maradona is seen on the big screen during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
Ecuador fans in the Al Bayt stadium celebrate as their team takes the lead against Qatar in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup this evening
Qatar fans were seen walking up the stairs to leave the Al Bayt stadium while the match was still taking place after Ecuador took a two goal lead
Rows of empty seats were seen in the stands before the final whistle during the opening match between Ecuador and Qatar
A man sat in the midst of rows of empty seats reacts during the opening fixture of the FIFA World Cup
Empty seats were clearly visible in the background of the ceremony, and while these appeared to have filled with fans by the time of kick-off at 7pm local time, they emptied again before the final whistle.
Qatar was soundly beaten by a comfortable Ecuador in the opening match of the tournament, which the hosts demanded take place today after it had been previously scheduled to take place on Monday.
Losing 2-0, organisers were left red-faced as thousands of spectators departed while the game was still taking place in full view of the cameras. In a historic match, it is the first time the host nation has lost its opening game in any World Cup to date.
Anger wasn’t just directed towards the hosts – the BBC also came under fire in a tense opening day after Gary Lineker and fellow pundits Alex Scott and Alan Shearer chose to address the human rights abuses at the top of their programme.
Lineker said: ‘It’s the most controversial World Cup in recent history and a ball hasn’t even been kicked.
‘Ever since FIFA chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to host football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions.
‘From accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who’ve built the stadiums where many lost their lives. Homosexuality is illegal here and women’s rights are also in the spotlight. Also the decision to switch the tournament from summer to winter.
‘Against that back drop, there is a tournament to be played here that will be watched and enjoyed around the world. Stick to football say FIFA, well we will for a couple of minutes at least.’
Morgan Freeman kicked off the World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar today in front of the country’s royals and rows of empty seats following weeks of criticism over the country’s human rights record.
The actor, 85, who four years ago apologised following accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, today narrated the event’s opening segment titled ‘The Calling’, telling viewers ‘We all gather here in one big tribe’ as fans descended on Doha city centre for the imminent kick off of the world’s greatest football festival.
Freeman spoke with 20-year-old Qatari entrepreneur and influencer Ghanim al Muftah – a FIFA World Cup Ambassador who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare disorder which impairs the development of the lower spine – who said to the actor: ‘Come on over.’
When Freeman replied ‘I’m not sure, Am I welcome?’, al Muftah said: ‘We sent out the call because everyone is welcome. This is an invitation to the whole world.’
Freeman replied: ‘I remember, even after hearing the call, instead of seeing another way, we dismissed it and demanded our own way. And now the world feels even more distant and divided. How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together, if only one way is accepted?’
His appearance comes four years after he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight women and issued an apology to ‘anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected’ by his behaviour, saying it was ‘never my intent’.
Sixteen people – eight witnesses and eight who claimed to be victims – had come forward to allege the actor engaged in ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and ‘harassment’ as they worked alongside him.
Football fans have reacted with fury on social media at the actor’s appearance in the ceremony, with one calling it ‘disappointing’ and another saying: ‘When you have to act out a scene with Morgan Freeman ”welcoming the entire world” to your country for a soccer tournament, maybe you shouldn’t host the World Cup.’
The opening ceremony featured scenes titled ‘Leta’Arafo (To Know One Another)’, followed by ‘Chants of Nations’, a World Cup Medley, a showcase of the official mascots and Jung Kook of South Korean boy band BTS.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani arrived at the stadium flanked by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, to a roaring crowd, and took their seats alongside other Arab leaders.
A show then unfolded on the pitch, featuring three camels, American actor Morgan Freeman and a performance of a new tournament song called Dreamers featuring singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS, alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, are among leaders at the in a tent-shaped stadium ahead of the first match between the hosts and Ecuador.
Qatar, which has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination, and FIFA hope the spotlight will now turn to action on the pitch. Organisers have also denied allegations of bribery for hosting rights.
Inside Al Bayt Stadium many seats were still vacant with gridlock on the expressway leading to the arena, where cheers went up as Qatar’s team appeared for their opening match.
The soccer tournament, the first held in the Middle East and the most expensive in its history, is a culmination of Qatar’s soft power push, after a 3-1/2 year boycott by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which ended in 2021.
The UAE, whose rapprochement with Doha has been slower than that of Riyadh and Cairo, sent its vice president who is also ruler of Dubai, where many World Cup fans have opted to stay.
For the first time, a direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Doha landed in Qatar on Sunday despite the absence of formal bilateral ties, in a deal brokered by FIFA to carry both Palestinians and Israelis to the tournament.
The Gulf state’s Deputy Prime Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah, in remarks on state media, said Qatar was reaping benefits of years of ‘hard work and sound planning’.
On Saturday, FIFA’s Infantino rounded on European critics of Qatar, saying engagement was the only way to improve rights, while Doha has also pointed to labour reforms.
Denmark’s and Germany’s team captains will wear One Love armbands as they prepare to compete in a conservative Muslim state where same-sex relations are illegal. Organisers say all are welcome while warning against public affection.
Supporters today arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius.
The vice president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is also Dubai’s ruler, arrived in Qatar for the World Cup opening on Sunday, Qatar’s news agency said.
And Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince and a delegation of ministers arrived in the neighbouring country this morning to attend the opening ceremony, Saudi state media reported.
Mohammed bin Salman was accompanied by the kingdom’s energy, interior, foreign, commerce and investment ministers as well as senior officials including his national security adviser and head of the National Guard, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
Qatari fans in crisp white thobes and women in black shayla headdresses and abayhas were seen filing into the stadium, which has been designed to look like the tents used by nomads.
They were accompanied by Ecuador fans, many of whom donned extravagant headdresses, balaclavas and masks and carried their national flags.
The atmosphere appeared friendly, with both sets of fans stopping to snap photos together outside the stadium’s entry gates.
Artists perform prior the start of the World Cup group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday
James Cleverly, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs is pictured during the FIFA World Cup Group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Singer Jung Kook of South Korea performs during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar
Aritsts perform during the opening ceremony before the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Sunday
Artists performs during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar
A giant World Cup Trophy during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
A photo shows a fireworks display during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20
People gather to watch a live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament, at the Corniche of Doha on November 20, 2022
Qatari singer Dana al-Fardan (C) performs during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022
Former France International Marcel Desailly with the World Cup trophy ahead of the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium
Supporters pose for selfies inside the Al Bayt stadium ahead of the opening ceremony
Many of the labourers who toiled to build the eight stadiums will have watched from the sidelines, unable to afford the highest ticket prices ever for a World Cup despite working tirelessly to fulfil a brutal schedule which saw many of their colleagues perish.
But a lucky few were said to be sprinkled among the well-heeled audience having been gifted tickets by the England football team.
The controversy that has long surrounded the decision to award the tiny Gulf state the World Cup has built to a crescendo ahead of the tournament, with unrelenting scrutiny of its treatment of migrant workers and the LGBT+ community.
‘We are ready,’ Qatar supporter Hakeem Ahmad told Reuters as he entered the stadium with his wife and two children.
‘Whatever happens on the pitch, the world should look kindly on us today.
‘We have organised this party for you. If Qatar can perform well, that would be a bonus for us.
‘We hope that after today people will see Qatar in a different light, for who we really are. It is time to talk positively about Qatar.’
Cathal Kelly, columnist for Canada’s national newspaper the Globe and Mail, summed up the distractions.
‘Once the first ball is kicked, no one cares if they’re holding this thing on a ceremonial burial ground or powering it with coal,’ he wrote.
Qatar fans wave flags and pose for photos outside of Sunday’s opening match
Cameroon fans cheer on the metro in Doha on November 20, 2022 ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament
Fans of the US (L) and Wales (R) gather at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2022. The USA will face Wales in their FIFA World Cup 2022 group B match on 21 November
Ecuador’s supporters wave a flag as they arrive at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022, before the kick-off match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup
Fans of Spain gather at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2022. Spain will face Costa Rica in their FIFA World Cup 2022 group E match on 23 November
That will certainly be the hope of football’s governing body FIFA and Qatari organisers who have pleaded for critics to focus on the football and not let the sport be dragged into ideological or political battles.
‘This is the first time I’ve come to a World Cup,’ Wilmer Saltos, 35, a farmer, who has travelled from Guayaquil on the coast of Ecuador with his brother and sister told Reuters while waiting in the heat to enter the stadium.
‘When we saw that Ecuador was opening the tournament, we thought we just had to be here. There are obviously big cultural differences, you can’t deny it.
‘But for us, today is about the football, we just want to focus on the game.’
While Qatar is hosting one of sport’s biggest parties it will be a mostly alcohol free after officials decided to turn off the beer taps inside stadiums, drawing even more criticism.
Qatar is a typically teetotal nation where tourists can only buy or consume alcohol inside licensed hotels or restaurants.
Exemptions for the World Cup previously meant meant fans were able to buy beers in special ‘fan zones’ or on stadium concourses.
But Qatar reneged on part of that deal, meaning beer can now only be sold only inside the ‘fan zones’ and will not be available in the stadiums.
Pints will cost £12, only be available at certain times, and each person will be limited to a maximum of four to stop them getting drunk.
Beer or no beer, Qataris and thousands of visiting fans have arrived ready to party with throngs packing the FIFA Fan Festival zones in central Doha along the city’s famed Corniche.