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Al Khor, Qatar. The climax of the $220 billion World Cup ended after 12 years of waiting and arguing, watched by autocrats and the world, on a Sunday evening that was all about Qatar for a while.
It was the global stage that the petrostate had been looking for for a long time – a dramatic opening ceremony, fireworks from the top of Al-Bayt Stadium. It was a moment of confirmation, arrival, legitimacy, belonging. It was a celebration filled with flying flags, vertigo and applause in honor of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Then the game really started. A soccer ball rolled. And reality hit hard.
Qatar, a football team physically superior and completely overwhelmed, kicked off their own party with a 2-0 defeat to Ecuador, whose fans were running for the exit well before the final whistle.
They have waited months, years, decades for their country’s debut in the world’s biggest sports arena and the first World Cup in the Middle East. However, after 45 minutes, some saw enough. Their white thobes, the traditional Qatari men’s attire, were already flowing out of the net at half-time, and their number grew throughout the second half. By full time, most of the 60,000-odd seats seemed to be, remarkably, empty.
Qatar caused jubilation for tens of thousands of fans by conceding a goal in the third minute, which was then thrown into confusion by video review, causing the biggest buzz of the evening.
But then the hosts retreated and lost to the best team in all respects. They became the first hosts of the World Cup to lose in the first match.
“People were really looking forward to this game,” Felix Sanchez, head coach of the Spanish national team of Qatar, said through an interpreter after the game. “We apologize because we weren’t able to contribute to this great atmosphere.”
Enner Valencia, a former 2014 World Cup star, scored both goals after only scoring once for Ecuador in the previous 12 months. Premier League and Bundesliga players up and down the pitch, side to side, were bulldozed and outclassed by a Qatari team drawn entirely from the local league.
At the same time, the Ecuadorians have made it clear that Qatar’s two-decade football project has not quite met the 2022 deadline. Its state-of-the-art, multibillion-dollar residential academy could not assemble a World Cup-sized team from a population of only about 300,000 citizens.
But there was a reason. He had a beautifully choreographed pre-game ceremony and Morgan Freeman as the live narrator. He got all the glamorous looks and sounds associated with the World Cup, inextricably linked to his name, Qatar.
It withstood criticism from the West and weathered the unprecedented storm. He won the sports laundry battle. “Today, the best ever FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar,” the Gulf Times said on Sunday morning, and even fans who only lasted 75 minutes are sure to be celebrating anyway.
Many of Qatar’s problems now include wrestling on the pitch
The astounding absurdity of this World Cup rose along Al Shamal Road, the main thoroughfare that leads from Doha to through the desert, past rubble and excavators and nothingness, and up to Al Khor. The landscape becomes more and more barren as we go, until the massive Bedouin tent-style building, Al-Bayt Stadium, emerges from the smog and dust in the distance.
It was built by people, migrants who are no longer here; and for the other people, the Qataris who crawled in SUVs down the highway towards him on Sunday. That’s why this World Cup was so scandalous. But, for good or for worse, on a cool windy evening it all started.
Popes in flip-flops and giddy kids in maroon Qatar T-shirts gazed at the stadium in awe. The whiteness of the tobs mingled with color, all sorts of colors in the vast open spaces around the arena. There was bright yellow Ecuador, but also a bright mix of fans from at least 16 different countries, including the US. And there were, at least, bursts, the type of festive atmosphere that only a World Cup can create. There was a circle of dancers singing Portuguese. Ecuadorians posed next to the Qataris. There was music, excitement and surprise.
There were also inevitable reminders of the inequality that lies at the heart of both Qatar and this World Cup. Hundreds of migrants, mostly from South Asia, stood for hours at one of the entrances. waiting to work concessions. Meanwhile, people on camels and horses lined up at the other entrance to greet, among others, FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the Emir. Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman joined them in a luxurious box.
There were probably 40,000 Qataris gathered around the huge stadium out of 67,372 announced to be present, and they did not at all represent the nation they had come to greet. Spend a week in Doha, anywhere outside of the city center, and you’ll meet Indians, Nepalis, Kenyans, Ugandans, and more coming to work. Migrants and children of migrants make up almost 90% of Qatar’s population. The wealthy part of Qatar that is actually Qatari — those who enjoy the exclusive benefits of citizenship that is nearly impossible for non-indigenous people — is razor-thin compared to most of the world.
And this, above all, was the merit of Qatar. football problem Sunday night. At the turn of the century, she set out to build an internationally competitive team with limitless wealth, but essentially a population the size of Iceland. And, as you might expect, it didn’t seem to work.
Qatar’s aggressive soccer project is back on Earth
Qatar initially tried to build competitive sports teams, as it has built much of its country by importing talent. He exposed Bulgarian weightlifters and Kenyan runners. She tried to field Brazilian football players, which led FIFA to change its policy. eligibility rules. Since 2004, footballers have had to be born, have roots or have lived for five years in the country they want to represent. So, with imports banned, Qatar turned to an unfamiliar option: domestic production.
In 2004, by decree of the Emir of Qatar, Aspiration Academy, a modern national sports school, carefully designed to train professional athletes. Its massive dome, the largest of its kind, houses a FIFA-approved soccer field (in addition to several outdoor venues), a dozen other Olympic-level sports facilities, classrooms and trendy residences. His scouts are reportedly traveling the country the size of Connecticut, checking on most of the roughly 7,000 Qatari boys who play organized football between the ages of 6 and 7. As teenagers, the best are taken from local teams and placed in the Academy, where they train under experienced European coaches, study on scholarships and get every conceivable chance of getting into the men’s national team.
They exist because for most of the last decade and up until 2017, Qatar hovered around the 100th spot in the world rankings. FIFA Men’s Ranking. His professional clubs did not produce enough top players. So instead the government paid a group of Spaniards and other foreigners. They paid performance coaches and data analysts. The World Cup was approaching and they needed to avoid shame.
Finally, after a few years, the multi-billion dollar project began to bear fruit. One of these Spanish managers, Sánchez, who was poached from Barcelona’s famed academy in 2006, has taken charge of the senior team and made astonishing progress. With seven Aspire alumni in their starting lineup of 11, Qatar stunned Japan by winning the 2019 Asian Cup. He also performed well as a guest at the 2021 Gold Cup. He entered the top 50 in the world, hoping for a respectable world championship that would not overshadow the wider show.
However, on Sunday, he returned to Earth with a dull thud.
Three sides of the stadium, built over the years for this day and several others, began to empty during a dismal second half.
Ecuadorians, filling the fourth end, jumped for joy.
They chanted “we want beer“,” we want beer “, which the Qatari organizers controversially banned. (Only non-alcoholic Budweiser was available for $8.25.)
They comprehensively disrupted the long-awaited party.