Sports, Football

Qatar get a reality check by Ecuador

Published : 21 Nov 2022 08:48 PM

The $220 billion World Cup climaxed after 12 years of anticipation and controversy, with autocrats and the world watching, on a Sunday night that, for a while, was all about Qatar.

It was the global stage this petrostate long ago sought — the dramatic opening ceremony, the spouting fireworks from the top of Al Bayt Stadium. It was a moment of validation, of arrival, of legitimacy, of belonging. It was a celebration, replete with flag-waving and giddiness and on-cue cheers for Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir.

Then the game actually started. A soccer ball rolled. And reality struck with force. Qatar the soccer team, physically overmatched and thoroughly overwhelmed, kicked off its own party with a 2-0 loss to Ecuador that had fans streaming for exits well before the final whistle.

They waited months, years, decades for their country’s debut on sport’s biggest stage, and for the first World Cup in the Middle East. After 45 minutes, though, some had seen enough. Their white thobes, the traditional Qatari male outfit, flowed out of gates as early as halftime, and in growing numbers throughout the second half. By full-time, it seemed that a majority of the 60,000-plus seats were, remarkably, empty.