The World Cup kicks off in Qatar on Sunday in a high-stakes event for the tiny nation which has faced a barrage of criticism and staked its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament, the first held in the Middle East and most expensive in history.
In a show of Gulf solidarity, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was among the political leaders arriving in Doha ahead of the opening ceremony to be held in a tent-shaped stadium at 1440 GMT, before the first match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador.
Gianni Infantino slams West’s hypocrisy over Qatar
Salah, Pogba, Mane and Halland top the list of players ‘not taking’ part in Qatar World Cup
Onstage, South Korean singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS will perform a new official tournament song called Dreamers alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi. The UN secretary general and Algeria’s president will be among foreign dignitaries.
Alcohol has been banned at stadiums, and organisers have warned against pubic displays of affection while saying all fans are welcome to the event.
People gather near the World Cup countdown clock in the Qatari capital Doha ahead of the World Cup. File/AFP
Neville, a 24-year-old Kenyan, and compatriot Willy, also 24 and a Manchester City fan, were hired as security guards during the event. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s definitely worth it,” said Neville.
Wealthy gas producer Qatar is the smallest nation to host soccer’s biggest global event, organised at a cost of $220 billion. Crowd control will be key with some 1.2 million visitors expected — more than a third of Qatar’s population.
A young Brazil fan poses at a marketplace in Doha, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. AFP
Many of the labourers who toiled to prepare tournament infrastructure will watch from the sidelines, priced out of the stadiums. Doha has been slammed for its treatment of migrant workers but points to labour reforms against exploitation.
Labourers were putting final touches on outdoor gardens and sidewalks on Saturday and carting construction material to a site near the National Museum, where fans in Argentina jerseys were among dozens milling about.
With a limited number of hotels in Qatar, fans will also fly in on daily shuttle flights from cities like tourism hub Dubai, as Qatar shares the World Cup economic boon with neighbours.