World Cup begins in high-stakes event for host Qatar

© Romain Houeix, FRANCE 24

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.

The tournament marks a culmination of Qatar's soft power push on the global stage and a show of strength after emerging from a 3-1/2 year boycott by Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies, which ended in 2021. The event will also see the first direct flights from Israel to Qatar for the 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 U.N. secretary general and Algeria's president will be among foreign dignitaries.

Qatar and FIFA hope the spotlight will turn to action on the pitch after facing mounting criticism over foreign workers' rights, LGBT rights and social restrictions. Organisers have denied allegations of bribery for hosting rights.

Denmark's and Germany's team captains will wear One Love armbands, their teams said, as they prepare to compete in a conservative Muslim state where same-sex relations are illegal.


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