It is widely accepted that the Gulf state has spent $200 billion hosting football’s biggest event and Qatar will get its first glimpse of the finished product at Al Khor’s Al Bayt Stadium when the hosts take on Ecuador.
The organizers say 2.9 million of the 3.1 million tickets have been sold and they expect 60,000 tickets on Sunday.
The home team’s players have also prepared tirelessly, spending months outside Qatar in isolated training camps, trying to reach the knockout stages in their World Cup debut.
“Our situation is different (compared to other teams) and we have to work with what we have,” coach Felix Sanchez told a press conference on the eve of the tournament.
“It is true that it is a huge sacrifice, a lot of time away from our families and abroad and this shows the dedication of the players to compete and it all starts tomorrow.”
The Group A fixture, which has been moved forward from Monday to allow Qatar to play in the opening game, will be a tough test for the hosts both on and off the pitch.
FIFA and the organizers of the tournament hope that the kick-off will help to shuffle several controversies.
Qatar has drawn criticism for its human rights record and the environmental impact of holding the event.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino had written to World Cup teams earlier this month calling on World Cup teams to “focus on football” and accused critics in Western countries of “hypocrisy” on Saturday.
‘We bring ‘A’ game’
Qatar will be wary of following the decades of work and spending with the embarrassment of becoming only the second host country to crash in the first round.
To avoid joining that exclusive club with South Africa, Sanchez’s men have been instructed to come from a group that also includes European giants Netherlands and African champion Senegal.
A win against less desirable Ecuador would make the next two matches less terrifying.
“On paper they (Qatar’s three opponents) should take the three points, but of course we are here to show our people that we can be a competitive team,” said Sanchez.
“We bring our ‘A’ game and play our football, and try to bring joy…
“We know it will be a big challenge for us, but we are eager to play this game and very happy to be here.”
Qatar has improved on the pitch since winning the World Cup bid, beating Japan in the 2019 Asian Cup final and finishing third in the Arab Cup last year.
However, results have slipped in recent months, with a 1-1 draw against Jamaica and a 3-0 defeat to the Croatia Under-23 team particularly disappointing.
Ecuador will be no laughing matter after the notoriously difficult South American qualifier.
“We think we have the same chance as Qatar for this opening match,” said Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo from Ecuador.
“We know how Qatar plays, they are strong, they are powerful. I know this will be a very difficult game tomorrow.”
After the tumultuous build-up capped by Friday’s surprise turnaround regarding beer sales in stadiums, Qatar’s players will aim to take the spotlight and ease scrutiny on off-field issues.
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