One week from kickoff, the World Cup trophy returned to Qatar on Sunday, teams, and fans started arriving and safety barriers went up across Doha ahead of one of the most controversial football tournaments ever.
The trophy, which will be awarded to the winning team on December 18, arrived back from a globe tour in time for the tournament’s opening match, which will feature hosts Qatar versus Ecuador on Sunday.
The international spotlight on Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, women, and the LGBTQ community has made FIFA’s appeals to “concentrate on the football” complicated to achieve. Most of the attacks have been strongly rejected by Qatar, and local media on Sunday decried the “arrogance” of some Western nations.
“It seems to have been all we have read about in recent weeks,” said Ringo Gonzalez, an Ecuadoran based in Germany, who was among fans gathering at the World Cup countdown clock on the Doha seafront early Sunday.
“It will be good to see the teams taking action at last. I hope Lionel Messi and the other big players perform well for Ecuador.
The American team has already landed in Doha, and on Sunday, Australia was scheduled to join. More than one million spectators are expected in Qatar, the smallest nation to host a World Cup, and many have already arrived in the capital.
Many star players were still involved for their European clubs on Sunday in the final matches before the season is paused for the World Cup.
Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe were all named in the starting lineup for Paris Saint-Germain against Auxerre in Ligue 1.
In Doha port, the giant newly built cruise ship, MSC Europa, was to be officially named on Sunday before it welcomes thousands of World Cup fans.
In a concession to Qatar’s Islamic culture that restricts alcohol and bans gambling, a bottle of rose water was to be smashed on the hull instead of traditional champagne for the inauguration and the ship’s casino was to be closed while it was in port.
Up to 10,000 fans will be accommodated on three cruise ships, and MSC reported that the Europa was fully booked for the first two weeks of the 29-day competition.
As security authorities prepared for the football invasion on land, barriers have been built on major streets, in the area of metro stations, and surrounding stadiums.
Organizers say that 2.9 million of the 3.1 million tickets have been sold and scores of hopeful fans waited outside the FIFA ticketing centre hoping that scarce tickets become available for top games.