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World Cup 2022: Qatar gets the party started as foreign fans flood Doha

Streets around the capital have a distinctly Latin American flavour as World Cup fever takes hold
Football supporters watch a fireworks display during the Fifa Fan Festival opening day at the Al Bidda park in Doha on 19 November 2022 (AFP)
By MEE correspondent in Doha

Bucket hats, beer hats and Qatari ghutras.

Iconic head coverings dominated Doha's corniche, as thousands of lovers of the beautiful game clamoured to get a look at the impressive fireworks display on the eve of the 2022 World Cup.

The tone had been set hours earlier by brightly dressed and noisily cheerful fans who had thronged the corniche, the road that follows Doha's seafront, in the heart of the Qatari capital.

'The vibe here is incredible'

- Bashir Mohammed, Qatar resident

From late Saturday into early Sunday, supporters in their teams' colours had taken over the area, singing lustily, banging drums and determined to have a party.

Fans of Argentina, Brazil, Morocco and Tunisia dominated, though others were identifiable from Portugal, France and Wales.

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One group of Argentina supporters stood out and heaped praise on the host nation, saying it could not have been more different to the previous World Cup in Russia.

"The atmosphere here is electric," said Eric Martinez, who came to watch the games with his 14-year-old son. "We didn't expect to this much enthusiasm. It's defied all expectations."

Moral lessons

A short distance away, construction workers could be seen applying the finishing touches to one project as the country prepared to welcome more than one million visitors for the 29-day event.

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 on Sunday.

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On Saturday, Fifa president Gianni Infantino hit out 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.

Labour conditions in Qatar, like 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.

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

'Vibe is incredible'

Speaking to MEE, Bashir Mohammed, an excited long-time Qatar resident and hardcore Brazilian fan, said he was at the corniche to show his support for the five-time world champions.

"This is a rare opportunity for a fan like me to witness Brazil play in a world cup. I previously watched World Cup games on TV, and I'm super excited to see the matches live in person. The vibe here is incredible."

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The waterfront will be an important tourist hotspot where daily leisure events will take place throughout the World Cup.

Europeans fans were noticeably absent at the fireworks display, with no English or Germans to be seen, but North Africans could be seen proudly waving their countries' flags.

Abdelkarim Bouzekri, a drummer among the football-mad fans, said he expected Morocco to make it through to the quarters or semi-finals.

The Atlas Lions have been drawn in a group that includes 2018 runner-up Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Bouzekri said he felt encouraged by the Algerian residents of Qatar who came out in support of Morocco and Tunisia. "They [Algerian fans] are a little disappointed, but we are brothers, and they'll support us."

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