DOHA: The World Cup kicked off in Qatar on Sunday as the month-long football showpiece finally got under way after a 12-year build-up. Qatar's Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was present in the impressive Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, 50 km outside of Doha, to watch the host nation face Ecuador. "People of different races, nationalities, creeds and orientations will gather here in Qatar and around screens on all continents to share the same exciting moments," he told the capacity 60,000 crowd.
In response to an invitation by Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim, Representative of HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah attended the World Cup opening ceremony. HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf also addressed a cable of congratulations to Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim on the inauguration of the World Cup. HH the Amir, in the cable, admired the magnificent opening of the championship, boasting Qatar has successfully hosted the event. He lauded it for displaying a message of amity and peace for peoples of the globe. He underlined the enormous preparations for holding the tournament and expressed good wishes to the country and people.
The Al Bayt venue is one of an array of new stadiums built for the tournament, which has cost Qatar an estimated $200 billion, making it the most expensive World Cup in history. South Korean K-pop star Jung Kook headlined the 30-minute opening ceremony that featured Hollywood star Morgan Freeman giving a message of diversity.
Ghanim Al-Muftah, a Qatari activist for the disabled, born with the rare Caudal Regression Syndrome, appeared with Freeman and stated to the crowd: "Everyone is welcome". With FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman watching on, Qatar's Amir Sheikh Tamim said: "We will follow with the whole world, God willing, the great football festival in this open space for human and civilized communication."
"We worked with many people to make it one of the most successful tournaments," said the Amir. "We made efforts and invested in the good for all humanity. "How beautiful it is for people to put aside what separates them in order to celebrate their diversity and what unites them at the same time." Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi met on Sunday in Qatar for the first time during the opening ceremony for the World Cup. A picture from Turkey's presidency showed a sincere handshake between the two leaders.
In a breathless start to the match in the stadium shaped like a Bedouin tent, Ecuador's Enner Valenica headed the ball into the net after three minutes but the goal was disallowed for offside. Thirteen minutes later, Ecuador did take the lead after Valencia dribbled round Qatari goalkeeper Saad Alsheeb who grabbed his shin and the referee pointed to the spot. Valencia coolly rolled home the penalty. Valencia added a second goal to give Ecuador a 2-0 win.
Defending champions France suffered another injury hammer blow early Sunday after confirmation that star striker and Ballon D'Or winner Karim Benzema had been forced out of the tournament with injury. The Real Madrid star limped out of a training session at the French camp on Saturday evening with a left thigh injury. The French federation later confirmed that the 34-year-old would require "a recovery period of three weeks" and would play no part in the competition. - Agencies