Qatar: The 2022 World Cup tournament kicks off with hosts against Ecuador

World leaders, politicians, diplomats and royalty have begun to arrive in Qatar before the World Cup kicks off on Sunday.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Doha on Saturday, followed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was spotted at Hamad International Airport on Sunday, Qatar News Agency reported.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also touched down in the host nation late on Saturday before Sunday evening’s opening match between Qatar and Ecuador.

Saudi Arabia, playing in Group C, will take on Argentina on November 22.

Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will also attend the opening ceremony, Egyptian state TV quoted the presidency as saying on Sunday.

Those not attending in person have sent messages of support.

On Friday, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s emir, received a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He called the emir’s office to congratulate the host country and wish the Qatari national team success in their coming games.

The official opening ceremony is slated to kick off at Al Bayt Stadium at 5pm (14:00 GMT) on Sunday before the inaugural Qatar-Ecuador match at 7pm (16:00 GMT).

The emir’s office said the opening event will be attended by “a number of Their Majesties, Highnesses, and Excellencies Heads of States and Heads of Delegations of brotherly and friendly countries”.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino had taken center stage on Saturday during an extraordinary hour-long monologue in a pre-tournament press conference.

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez, meanwhile, is hoping for the best when the Gulf nation make their World Cup debut in Al Khor, while there was a late injury blow for France, with Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema ruled out of the tournament.

With all of the pre-tournament headlines surrounding off-field issues, Qatar coach Felix Sanchez is determined his side will produce a performance in the Group A opener against Ecuador in Al Khor.

Ahead of the tournament opening, iconic head coverings dominated Doha’s corniche, as thousands of lovers of the beautiful game clamoured to get a look at the impressive fireworks display on the eve of the 2022 World Cup.

The tone had been set hours earlier by brightly dressed and noisily cheerful fans who had thronged the corniche, the road that follows Doha’s seafront, in the heart of the Qatari capital.

From late Saturday into early Sunday, supporters in their teams’ colours had taken over the area, singing lustily, banging drums and determined to have a party.

Fans of Argentina, Brazil, Morocco and Tunisia dominated, though others were identifiable from Portugal, France and Wales.

One group of Argentina supporters stood out and heaped praise on the host nation, saying it could not have been more different to the previous World Cup in Russia.

“The atmosphere here is electric,” said Eric Martinez, who came to watch the games with his 14-year-old son. “We didn’t expect to this much enthusiasm. It’s defied all expectations.”

A short distance away, construction workers could be seen applying the finishing touches to one project as the country prepared to welcome more than one million visitors for the 29-day event.

Qatar, which was awarded the right to host the tournament in 2010, has received renewed criticism over its treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record in the run-up to the opening ceremony on Sunday.

On Saturday, Fifa president Gianni Infantino hit out at the criticism, saying western nations were in no position to give “moral lessons” to other countries.

“I’m European. For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people,” Infantino said.

Labour conditions in Qatar, like many of the Gulf Arab states, have been criticised for exploiting low-paid workers, who here built the former pearling port into a desert metropolis.

Qatar, which is home to more than two million migrants, has overhauled its labour laws, but activists have asked for more to be done.

Speaking to MEE, Bashir Mohammed, an excited long-time Qatar resident and hardcore Brazilian fan, said he was at the corniche to show his support for the five-time world champions.

“This is a rare opportunity for a fan like me to witness Brazil play in a world cup. I previously watched World Cup games on TV, and I’m super excited to see the matches live in person. The vibe here is incredible.”

The waterfront will be an important tourist hotspot where daily leisure events will take place throughout the World Cup.

Europeans fans were noticeably absent at the fireworks display, with no English or Germans to be seen, but North Africans could be seen proudly waving their countries’ flags.

Abdelkarim Bouzekri, a drummer among the football-mad fans, said he expected Morocco to make it through to the quarters or semi-finals.

The Atlas Lions have been drawn in a group that includes 2018 runner-up Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Bouzekri said he felt encouraged by the Algerian residents of Qatar who came out in support of Morocco and Tunisia. “They [Algerian fans] are a little disappointed, but we are brothers, and they’ll support us.”