News ID: 325471
Published: 1029 GMT November 19, 2022

Qatar, Ecuador to kick off controversy-ridden World Cup

Qatar, Ecuador to kick off controversy-ridden World Cup
HAMAD I MOHAMMED/REUTERS

The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 countdown clock is seen in Doha, Qatar, on October 12, 2022.

Sports Desk

Host Qatar and Ecuador will square off on Sunday in the opening game of probably the most controversial FIFA World Cup in recent history of the sport.

The tournament, running through December 18, is the maiden World Cup staged in the Middle East, and the first taking part in the Northern Hemisphere's winter due to Qatar's intense summer heat and humidity.

Over the 12 years since Qatar was awarded the hosting rights, the tiny, gas-rich emirate is estimated to have spent $220 billion to prepare for the event, while a Bloomberg report suggested the figure stands at $300 billion.

The most expensive World Cup prior to this year’s edition cost Brazil some $15 billion in 2014.

The 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, the venue for Sunday’s game, is just one of seven stadiums built for the tournament – along with 100 new hotels – as Qatar is expected to welcome more than a million fans over the next month.

The construction of the new facilities and infrastructure, however, have come at higher costs as, according to numerous media reports, thousands of foreign workers – mostly from South Asia and Africa – either lost their lives or endured exploitative circumstances in the process, leaving Qatar under fierce criticism for its mistreatment of migrant labor force.

The controversy has led to several teams and players planning peaceful protests during the competition.

Denmark will wear "toned-down" shirts for the World Cup with their kit provider Hummel saying it "does not wish to be visible" in a tournament it claims "has cost thousands of lives".

However, the Danish football federation’s request for its players to be permitted to wear training shirts bearing the words ‘Human Rights for All’ was rejected by the world football’s governing body, which has prohibited all political messages, asking teams to "focus on football" in Qatar.

Paris and other French cities, meanwhile, are refusing to screen World Cup matches in public places in protest to Qatar’s human and labor rights record.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino hit back at criticism of Qatar from Europe in a press conference on the eve of the World Cup.

“We have [been] told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” Infantino said on Saturday.

“I think for what we Europeans have been doing [for] the last 3,000 years we should be apologizing for [the] next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.

“If you need to criticize anybody, don’t put pressure on the players, the coaches. You want to criticize. You can crucify me. I’m here for that. Don’t criticize anyone. Don’t criticize Qatar. Let people enjoy this World Cup.”

While the awarding of the tournament to the Persian Gulf country in 2010 was surrounded by allegations of fraud and bribery, then-FIFA chief Sepp Blatter recently said the decision was a “mistake” as he believes Qatar is "too small of a country" to host the event and that "football and the World Cup are too big for it."

"It was a bad choice and I was responsible for that as president at the time," he said.

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said in March it is "ridiculous" that this year's World Cup is being played in Qatar, accusing FIFA of taking the tournament to the Middle East for “money and commercial interests.”

The event is expected to deliver record revenue for FIFA and top the roughly $5.4 billion that the 2018 World Cup in Russia generated for the sport’s governing body, said a Bloomberg report, adding that about 3.6 billion watched the last World Cup and billions are set to tune in to this edition.

 

On the pitch

 

Qatar will be the first team since Italy in the second World Cup in 1934 to participate in the finals for the first time as a host without having previously qualified for the competition.

France, opening its campaign against Australia in Group D on Tuesday, steps into the competition as the defending champion and head coach Didier Deschamps, despite missing first-choice midfielders Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante, hopes prolific strikers Karim Benzema – Ballon d'Or winner in October – and Kylian Mbappé will lead Les Bleus to emulate the feat of four years ago.

However, Mbappé’s PSG teammates Lionel Messi and Neymar might have something to say about that as both Argentina and Brazil are widely regarded by many as the favorites to end the Europeans’ dominance over the competition since the Selecao last lifted the trophy in 2002 – the only other World Cup staged in Asia.

Tite’s Brazil enjoys a star-studded frontline in Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Gabriel Jesus, Raphinha, Richarlison and Rodrygo, though the lack of depth in fullback positions may prove to be South American giant’s Achilles' heel in Qatar.

A tricky Group G will see Brazil take on Serbia on Thursday before facing Switzerland and Cameroon.

Inspired by an in-form Messi, who will likely play in his last World Cup, Argentina will be looking to build on last year’s Copa America title-winning campaign, where La Albiceleste beat the host and their familiar foe Brazil in the final.

The good news for manager Lionel Scaloni is that Roma’s attacking midfielder Paulo Dybala has recovered in time from a hamstring injury to feature for the Argentines.

Argentina will play Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Group C – also featuring Mexico and Poland.

 

   
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