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Camels, fireworks and Morgan Freeman.
The 2022 World Cup kicked off on Sunday with a visually stunning opening ceremony at Al-Bayt Stadium ahead of the tournament’s opener between hosts Qatar and Ecuador.
American actor Freeman took part in the festivities alongside Qatari YouTuber Ghanim Al-Muftah.
South Korean pop star Jung Kook sang Dreamers, the song of the tournament, alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi at Al Khor Stadium.
With just under 90 minutes to go until the tournament opener, the ceremony kicked off with Oscar-winning actor Freeman narrating a video about football’s ability to unite.
Preparations for the first World Cup to be held in a Muslim country in the Middle East have been overshadowed by a number of controversies, including the deaths of migrant workers and the treatment of LGBT people in Qatar.
During the first dance routine, Freeman was greeted with cheers as he appeared in the stadium alongside Al Muftah, who was born with the rare caudal regression syndrome.
“Everyone is welcome,” Freeman told the crowd.
One of the dance routines featured giant marching kits from all 32 teams taking part in the tournament and mascots from previous World Cups alongside La’eeb, the 2022 mascot.
Jung Kook and Fahad Al Kubaisi performed together before Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani delivered the opening speech in Arabic.
“People of different races, nationalities, creeds and orientations will come together here in Qatar and around screens on every continent to share the same exciting moments,” the Emir told the crowd.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the UN secretary-general, were among world leaders in the tent-like stadium ahead of the opening game.
The 30-minute ceremony ended with fireworks and another dance number before the Qatar and Ecuador teams took to the pitch to begin their warm-ups.
“This opening ceremony seemed different and important” – analysis
Alex Capstick, BBC Sport at Al-Bayt Stadium
After all the challenges, allegations and doubts, this was Qatar’s opportunity to welcome the world and present its case to a global audience of billions.
Despite its location in the middle of a barren desert far from it all, Al-Bayt Stadium provides a breathtaking setting for the most controversial World Cup opener in history. It’s easy to see why it was chosen, designed in the shape and colors of a colossal Bedouin tent, home to nomads from across the region. It is an architectural gem.
The interior is equally eye-catching. A sea of maroon white with a wide streak of yellow behind one of the goals where the Ecuadorian fans had gathered.
The opening ceremonies may seem like an unnecessary distraction before the main event, but this felt different and important. After everything that happened before, the Qataris could not afford to slip up.
Persuading Morgan Freeman to narrate the show live in the stadium felt like a real coup. The mix of traditional and modern elements was seamless, with mascots and songs from previous World Cups a nice touch.
An appearance by South Korean K-pop megastar Jung Kook got the youngsters on their feet, but the biggest joy was for the Emir of Qatar when he arrived and waved to the crowd.
The country’s leader welcomed people of all faiths, but there was no acknowledgment of the controversies that dominated the build-up.
The Qataris we spoke to were also reluctant to discuss more negative topics, but they were both proud and excited. For the organizers, perhaps a brief sigh of relief.
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