It’s nothing new for fans to be a bit slow to get back after half-time, and with the brand new freezers at the Albert Stadium full of zero buds, who can blame them?
But as time went on, it became clear that 10,000 Qatari fans had gone AWOL out of a crowd of 67,372 – the stadium’s capacity was listed by organizers as 60,000.
When this migration was pointed out on Twitter, some culturally sensitive people may have been inspired by the opening ceremony to suggest that they might be praying. After all, the last prayer of the day was offered during the tournament’s opening ceremony, so fans may be making up for missing that.
Thank you Athletic Sitting next to three friendly journalists from the host country, one of whom has already told us he studied at Sunderland. He didn’t say what he studied, which didn’t seem fair to ask.
“Excuse me. People on Twitter want to know if fans who aren’t there are praying. Is that correct?” we asked.
“Okay then. They just left. When Sunderland went down, I left early too.”
So there you have it. For all our differences, we do come together through football.
By the way, today’s most anticipated World Cup opener, what else have we learned?
Well, chronologically, we can say that Al Khor, not Watford, is the venue for this match.
It has been suggested that all eight stadiums used here are actually part of the Doha metropolitan area, much like the aforementioned Hertfordshire town is linked to London. This comparison only works if we consider Elstree, Bushey, and Stanmore to be deserts. It’s been suggested before, but it’s not the case.
Al Bayt Stadium, which looks like a giant Bedouin tent, is the only World Cup venue not on Doha’s metro system. It might be a good idea to move the tent a little closer, then, because the traffic outside is truly world class.
Of course, this might explain why so many Qatari fans quit early. Presumably, they were the ones who couldn’t book a spot on the stadium’s helipad. Anyways lads – mostly lads – you’ve been waiting for 12 years, it’s cost at least $200bn (£168bn), countless lives, and with half an hour to go, it’s only 2-0.
But we’ll come back to it all.
The place was buzzing before the game. The yellow jerseys of the Ecuadorian fans added a splash of colour, and the hundreds of volunteer staff did their best to point people in the right direction, which was especially helpful because no one knew where they were going.
The opening ceremony was…why should I tell you what the opening ceremony was like? You’ve all seen them. If you’re trying to complete 92 sports-related mascot and music mashups, our Nick Miller has all the details.
The only thing of note is that the show’s co-star is well-respected Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman.
He was last seen in a football-related setting in December 2010, during the final presentation of the US bid, before the vote on who would host the World Cup. Still, he must have impressed someone at the time.
The all-star VVIPs sat in plush seats to watch all this song, dance and appeal to the noblest instincts of human beings.
The first to take office was “Father Emir” Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who ruled Qatar from 1995 to 2013 when he handed over the reins to his fourth son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
Sheikh Hamad is perhaps best known outside Qatar for his greeting card celebrating Sepp Blatter taking Qatar out of an envelope that day in Zurich nearly 12 years ago. He has nothing to be happy about here, though.
Sitting next to him, to his right is King Abdullah II of Jordan, then to his left there are two empty seats, and then we get to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Well, it’s not just football royalty.
Both seats were filled at exactly 5.40pm, 20 minutes before kick-off, when the main man, Emperor Gianni Infantino, arrived with Sheikh Tamim .
The latter duly kissed his father’s hand as Infantino sat between the current rulers of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Not so long ago, the man better known as MBS tried to wreck Qatar’s economy, force FIFA to give Saudi Arabia some support for the 2022 World Cup, and fill the canal separating the two neighbors with toxic waste.
It appears that there is water under the bridge now.
MBS also sat next to Infantino in the opening game of the last World Cup. A gluttonous punishment.
He watched his team get beaten 5-0 by Russia. He might (surreptitiously) like today’s game better.
After the dancers and K-pop star left the stadium (hoping to take it far), Sheikh Tamim delivered a speech in Arabic, ending with a warm smile and the words “Welcome everyone and good luck” in English.
Infantino, FIFA’s human C-3PO, then said the same thing in Arabic, Spanish and English, and then all of us – including David Beckham – settled down for football!
Oh, but did anyone tell the host team? Or the lad in the semi-automatic offside tech cabinet?
As goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb saved a cross a few minutes into the game (which would be the theme of the evening, as was the Doha Boys’ Choir’s choreographed chants in his chants behind goal) and ex-West ham And Everton striker Enna Valencia points a penalty at the back. Cue South American celebrations.
But then, just as the players returned to their positions and the Qatar team was about to kick off again, VAR ruled that it was offside first.
Every World Cup question you were afraid to ask
Speaking to reporters on Friday, FIFA chief referee Pierluigi Collina assured us that the latest version of VAR will be faster, more accurate and easier to explain to spectators. That would be no; maybe; and, uh, I’m still not sure I get it.
any. Ecuador is all over Qatar and they’ve been in training camp together for the past six months, training like a club. From the looks of it, this is a League Two club.
Valencia headed past Al Sheeb to score after 16 minutes but were brought down by a textbook tackle. The decision was not reversed and the 33-year-old, now with Fenerbahce in Turkey, pulled himself together and missed the penalty. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is watching, will be delighted.
Ecuador’s night got even better in the 31st minute when Qatar’s panicked defender made another clearance – right-back Angelo Preciado put the ball into the mixer and Valencia’s forehead did the rest.
As far as football goes, that’s pretty much it.
Ecuador turned down a couple of good chances but never really got out of third gear.
Qatar, the 2019 AFC champion, has woken up a bit. But they still didn’t shoot. The stadium is half empty – sorry, let’s be positive, half full – with 10 minutes to play.
Never mind that only African champions Senegal and world eighth-ranked Netherlands are in Group A.
At least everyone will now focus on how bad Qatar’s team is, how malleable their fans are, and when MBS will be able to watch his national team play one of these World Cup openers instead of focusing on all that negative stuff.
Witness the most embarrassing World Cup opening ever
(Above: David S Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images))