Skip to main content

Qatar World Cup: Cheers, celebrations as long wait ends for first Arab-hosted finals

Ecuador defeat hosts Qatar 2-0 in the opening match after a deafening reaction to the tournament's opening ceremony
Qatar fans cheer on their team ahead their 2022 World Cup Group A match with Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on 20 November 2022 (AFP)
By MEE correspondent in Doha

The Qatar World Cup is finally here.

There was a cauldron-like atmosphere at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Doha on Sunday as 60,000 football fans streamed towards the spectacular venue - shaped like a traditional Bedouin tent - for the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East.

Those lucky enough to buy a ticket witnessed Hollywood star Morgan Freeman deliver a message of hope, unity and tolerance before Qatari singer Dana rocked the stadium.

In a glitzy opening ceremony, Freeman greeted the young disabled Qatari influencer Ghanim al-Muftah and lamented about a world which feels "distant and divided".

Actor Morgan Freeman and Qatari YouTuber Ghanim al Muftah take part in the opening ceremony ahead of the 2022 World Cup (AFP)
Actor Morgan Freeman and Qatari YouTuber Ghanim al-Muftah take part in the opening ceremony ahead of the 2022 World Cup (AFP)

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


In an exchange with the veteran actor, Muftah, a popular YouTuber who was born with a rare disorder that impairs the development of the lower spine, replied with a verse from the Quran. 

He explained that Muslims believe people from different nations and tribes were put together on earth to learn from each other and find "beauty in our differences".

The teachings of Islam are likely to feature heavily during the tournament - Quranic verses and hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) - have already been spotted around Doha.

Later, fans were treated to a traditional sword dance (known as Ardah), followed by a display of flags of all the participating nations and a mashup of previous World Cup songs, including Shakira's Waka Waka and K'naan's Wavin Flag

In the final musical performance, Jung Kook, member of South Korean boyband BTS, performed his new song Dreamers, as he was joined by Qatari singer Fahad al-Kubaisi. 

The football, however, lacked such stardust. 

Hosts Qatar were comfortably beaten by Ecuador 2-0, thanks to two first-half goals by former West Ham and Everton forward Enner Valencia. Many seats remained empty after half time, and a flat second half prompted further walkouts before full time.

'Celebrate diversity'

Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had received a deafening reaction from the fans when he paid homage to the diversity in attendance at the opening ceremony.

"How beautiful it is for people to put aside what divides them in order to celebrate their diversity," he said. "Let this tournament be full of inspiring days of goodness and hope, and welcome everyone to the world in Doha."

Earlier during the ceremony, the Qatari emir signed a football shirt with his father, the former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa, who was ruler when the gas-rich nation won the right to host the World Cup in 2010. 

Several Middle Eastern leaders were also in attendance, including King Abdullah of JordanSaudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Qatar World Cup: Five players from the Middle East to watch out for
Read More »

Erdogan and Sisi, whose countries look set to normalise relations after years of tensions, were pictured shaking hands and speaking to each other for the first time.

In 2019, Erdogan said: "I would never meet someone like Sisi. First of all, all the political prisoners must be released with a general amnesty. Otherwise we won’t meet Sisi. The ones who meet him would be judged by the history."

Mohammed bin Salman, once a foe of Doha who had led an economic and political blockade of its Gulf neighbour, looked on smiling and clapping whilst he sat next to Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

Fireworks filled the night sky above the stadium shortly afterwards, as players from Qatar and Ecuador took to the field.

Ahmed Ali, a 28-year-old Qatari fan, said it was one of the proudest moments of his life, second only to his recent marriage.

"This is unprecedented. Who would have believed 20 years ago, after [the] 9/11 [attacks] that a Arab and Muslim country would hold the greatest tournament in the world?" he said.

Moral lessons

Qatar, which was awarded the right to host the tournament in 2010, has received renewed criticism over its treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record in the run-up to the opening ceremony.

Infantino has hit back at the criticism, saying western nations were in no position to give "moral lessons" to other countries.

"I'm European. For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people," Infantino said on Saturday.

Qatar World Cup: Can the host nation advance from the group stages?
Read More »

Labour conditions in Qatar, as in many of the Gulf Arab states, have been criticised for exploiting low-paid workers, who here built the former pearling port into a desert metropolis.

Home to more than two million migrants, Qatar has overhauled its labour laws, but activists have asked for more to be done.

Speaking to MEE, Ibrahim Barrie, a cashier at a popular supermarket in the Dahl al Hamam neighbourhood of Madinat Khalifa, said he was excited about the tournament and the prospect of watching African nations excel.

Pressed further, the 30-year-old admitted his love for Senegal. "Sadio Mane's large cutout near the City Centre Mall gives me goosebumps," he said.

With much of the pre-tournament build up being dominated by conversations around human rights, the weather, construction and other off-pitch issues, the football is now upon us. 

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.