The billion dollar question is no longer what the World Cup is doing in Qatar but what Qatar is doing in the World Cup. It may be possible to buy a World Cup and with it a place among the world’s elite but, inconveniently, football matches themselves are a meritocracy.
No matter how big your natural gas field is, if you defend like you’ve never met before, the game will put you in your shoes. Five months training together in preparation went out the window when a patchy, nerve-riddled opening night performance saw them crash against Ecuador.
Freezing in the desert is not easy, but Qatar did it on Sunday night by becoming the first host nation to lose an opening match at a World Cup. No other host country in the competition’s 92-year history had lost the opening match.
Qatar was in such terrifying disrepair before the break that thousands of its fans who packed the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium never bothered to return after the break, the traditional white robes and black abayas replaced by empty red seats.
The highly choreographed Qatar ‘ultras’ sang to the bitter end, but didn’t have a single shot on goal to enliven the entire game. Perhaps Qatar should stick to hosting duties.
There was much more energy in the opening ceremony, a high-tempo fusion of Arabic and Western music, than in the team’s performance. He conveyed the noble message of football that bridges the gap and unites the world.
With this World Cup being the most contentious in history, that’s the very definition of optimism, but it was a sharp show nonetheless, and particularly strong on the mascots. All the weirdos from previous tournaments, since the Willie World Cup, walked the parade, plus this year’s La’eeb, a flying white headdress.
La’eeb has mystified some with its ghostly appearance, but its moment of takeoff brought thundering ovations from all corners of the pristine Al Bayt Stadium. It was a great gig for Morgan Freeman to tell the story of soccer (not soccer), but when you’ve played God, the World Cup MC is a small beer. No alcohol obviously.
The ban on alcoholic beverages at the stadium, erected like a giant Bedouin tent 30 miles in the desert north of Doha, did not appear to be a problem for the Ecuador fans who thoroughly enjoyed their night. The only fly in his ointment was the offside of the robot via VAR that annulled Enner Valencia’s first ‘goal’ after a comedy of errors at the start of the Qatari defense.
The image that appeared on the giant screens inside the stadium to explain the decision 10 minutes after the incident did little to convince the yellow wall. Never mind, it was his night regardless.
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