After 12 years of preparations, the World Cup has gotten under way with the opening ceremonies kicking it off at Qatar’s Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday.
The 30-minute ceremony, narrated by Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, featured performances from a star-studded cast of entertainers and singers, including K-pop sensation Jungkook of South Korean supergroup BTS and Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi.
Fireworks lit up the night sky above the stadium located some 44km (27 miles) north of Qatar’s capital, Doha.
The ceremony’s theme was unity and inclusivity.
“Let this tournament be full of inspiring days of goodness and hope,” Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told the crowd, as he welcomed the world to Doha.
Across the region, fans jam-packed cafés in Erbil, Iraq, crowded around TVs screens at pubs in Istanbul, Turkey, and filled a sports hall in Gaza City to witness the opening ceremonies — and the first World Cup match to be played on Middle Eastern soil.
With all eyes on diminutive and energy-rich Qatar, some were hopeful the spotlight could shatter stereotypes.
“I did not expect that one day an Arab country would host the World Cup,” Rasul Farid, 26, told Al Jazeera at a café in the city of Erbil in northern Iraq.
“It is a positive thing that the World Cup in an Arab country will give a different impression of us, away from stereotypes. I am here to support the Qatari team.”
Qatar vs Ecuador
Qatar and Ecuador took the field at 7pm local time(16:00 GMT).
Just three minutes in, referees called back what appeared to be the match’s first goal, after a header from Ecuador’s Valencia rippled the mesh following a long-distance free-kick attempt by Pervis Estupinan at half-field.
The goal was ultimately disallowed by the video assistant referee (VAR).
Valencia later slipped his first goal past Qatari goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb on a penalty shot 15 minutes into the match. He then notched his second goal with a header from a cross just outside the box shortly before the end of the first half.
Qatar dominated possession in the second half. However, the home team struggled to capitalise on any fleeting momentum they had built, failing to land any of their five shots on goal throughout the match.
For Qatar, who now face an uphill battle in Group A, the loss notably marked the first time in the World Cup that a host team lost the opening match.
“Everything leading up to the game was great. But that performance was very bad,” one Qatar fan told Al Jazeera following the match.
Elsewhere in Doha, there were chaotic scenes at the FIFA fan festival in Al Bidda Park after tens of thousands of fans packed the venue, the Reuters and the Associated Press news agencies reported.
The venue, which has a capacity of 40,000 people, was overwhelmed by at least twice that number and police ultimately had to shepherd thousands of angered fans out of the holding area between the main festival park and the perimeter entrance.
“They let too many people in,” one fan holding a three-year-old child told Reuters.
“We never made it into the main area and I was glad to leave.”
Inside, boisterous fans draped in their country’s colours waved flags and lined up to pay $14 per glass of beer, with revellers limited to four per person.
“So far it’s been nice people, nice weather, nice everything,” Danish fan Emil Larsen told the Associated Press.
“And it’s been hard to find something to drink, you know, like a beer. But so far, so good.”