Doha: As Qatar make their FIFA World Cup debut on Sunday, coach Felix Sanchez is upbeat about his men taking on Ecuador in the first match at the Al Bayt Stadium outside Doha.
The match venue seems metaphorical as Al Bayt, an Arabic word that translates to home, may give the Asian champions a home advantage over the South American side ranked 44th in the world.
The opening ceremony at the tent-shaped stadium, some 50 km north of Doha, begins at 5.40pm Doha time (8.10pm IST). The match between Qatar and Ecuador starts at 7pm (9.30pm IST).
“Everything we’ve done in the past three years is to have a very competitive team in the World Cup. Every country’s situation is different and we’re a small country,” Sanchez said at a press meet on the eve of the tournament opener.
Before training at the Aspire Academy in Doha, the Qataris trained in Spain for 40 days.
“All the players are fully prepared for the great challenge, which gives cause for optimism in Al Annabi’s ability to record a distinguished presence and achieve a positive result,” a Qatari football official added.
INFANTINO HITS BACK AT CRITICISM
FIFA President Gianni Infantino almost went ballistic at criticism of the World Cup in Qatar at a press meet in Doha on the eve of the inauguration of the tournament.
“We have been taught many lessons from Europeans and the Western world. I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.
“If Europe really cares about the destiny of these people, they can create legal channels — like Qatar did — where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Give them some future, some hope.
“I have difficulties understanding the criticism. We have to invest in helping these people, in education and to give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect but reform and change takes time.”
Western media outlets have levelled allegations of human rights abuse on Qatar, which the country denies.
The alcohol policy of the country during the World Cup has also come under the spotlight. Infantino added, “This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no one recognises the progress made here since 2016.
“There have been discussions with the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation directly, who also confirmed the progress that has been made regarding the workers’ file, and there is a monitoring system as well, as it suffices to say that a permanent office of the International Labour Organisation is here in Qatar,” he said.
Infantino announced the launch of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Legacy Fund, in which there will be a wide scope for investment by everyone. The fund will be related to education in the world in the first place, especially the education of children in order to build a better future for people.
GLITZY OPENING EXPECTED
A sparkling opening ceremony inside the Bedouin-tent inspired Al Bayt Stadium will invite the world to come together in Qatar as the FIFA World Cup kicks off for the first time in the Middle East and Arab world, the world soccer body said in a statement on Saturday.
The 30-minute show will be full of surprises, with the main act featuring a performance of Dreamers — another hit single on the FIFA World Cup Official Soundtrack — by celebrated South Korean pop star Jung Kook of BTS and Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.
The theme of the opening ceremony is a gathering for all mankind, bridging differences through humanity, respect and inclusion, FIFA said.