After 12 years of preparations, the World Cup has kicked off with opening ceremonies at Qatar’s Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday.
The 30-minute ceremony, narrated by Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, featured performances by a star-studded cast of artists and singers, including K-pop sensation Jungkook of South Korean supergroup BTS and Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi.
Fireworks lit up the night sky over the stadium located about 44 kilometers (27 miles) north of the Qatari capital Doha.
The theme of the ceremony was unity and inclusion.
“May this tournament be filled with inspiring days of goodness and hope,” Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar told the crowd as he welcomed the world to Doha.
Across the region, fans packed cafes in Erbil, Iraq, crowded around television screens in pubs in Istanbul, Turkey, and packed a sports hall in Gaza City to watch opening ceremonies and the first World Cup match to be played in the Middle East. eastern soil.
With all eyes on tiny, energy-rich Qatar, some hoped the spotlight could break stereotypes.
“I didn’t expect that one day an Arab country would host the World Cup,” Rasul Farid, 26, told Al Jazeera at a cafe in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
“It is positive that the World Cup in an Arab country gives a different impression of us, far from stereotypes. I am here to support the Qatar team.”
Qatar and Ecuador took the pitch at 7:00 p.m. local time (4:00 p.m. GMT).
Qatar disappointed in their opening World Cup game, losing 2-0 to an energized Ecuador led by Enner Valencia, who scored two unanswered goals from a penalty kick and then a header.
Just three minutes later, the referees disallowed what appeared to be the first goal of the match, after a header from Ecuador’s Valencia rippled the net after Pervis Estupinan’s long-range free-kick attempt in midfield.
The goal was eventually disallowed by the video assistant referee (VAR).
Valencia later slipped their first goal past Qatari goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb on a penalty kick 15 minutes into the game. He then scored his second goal with a header from a cross outside the box shortly before the end of the first half.
Qatar dominated possession in the second half. However, the home side struggled to capitalize on any fleeting momentum they had built, failing to land any of their five shots on goal throughout the match.
For Qatar, now facing an uphill battle in Group A, the loss notably marked the first time in the World Cup that a host team lost the opening game.
“Everything leading up to the game was great. But that performance was very bad,” a Qatari fan told Al Jazeera after the game.
Elsewhere in Doha, there were chaotic scenes at the FIFA fan festival in Al Bidda Park after tens of thousands of fans packed the venue, Reuters and Associated Press news agencies reported.
The venue, which has a capacity of 40,000, was overwhelmed by at least twice that number and police eventually had to clear thousands of angry fans from the holding area between the festival’s main park and the perimeter entrance.
“They let too many people in,” a fan holding a three-year-old told Reuters.
“We never made it to the main area and I was glad to go.”
Inside, boisterous fans dressed in the colors of their country waved flags and lined up to pay $14 a glass of beer, with revelers limited to four per person.
“So far it’s been good people, good weather, all very good,” Danish fan Emil Larsen told the Associated Press.
“And it’s been hard finding something to drink, you know, like a beer. But so far, so good.”
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