FIFA President Gianni Infantino (2ndR) and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Stadium Bayt on November 20, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.
Amin Mohammad Jamali | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images
Kicking off the 2022 World Cup on Sunday is surrounded by accusations of human rights abuses and last-minute controversy surrounding host Qatar.
A million fans from around the world will travel to the small but wealthy Gulf nation to watch stars from 32 countries compete over the next four weeks in the men’s soccer tournament, which is the second biggest sporting event in the world. after the Olympics.
The time of year and venue – this is the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East – meant the event had long promised to be unlike any before it, but Friday’s news that alcohol sales would be banned within the stadium grounds highlighted the cultural shock of the conservative emirate hosting a global party.
World Cup teams and campaigners have also expressed concern for residents and visitors visiting after years of preparation for this year’s tournament dominated by criticism of Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ people.
The ruling family of the small, energy-rich nation and FIFA organizers hope these problems will go away once the action begins. In a bizarre press conference on the eve of the tournament, Gianni Infantino, the head of world football’s governing body, accused the host’s critics of hypocrisy.
Qatar will face Ecuador at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday in the opener, with the United States playing their opener against Wales at 2 p.m. ET on Monday.
“It’s hard for me to describe,” United States men’s national team goaltender Matt Turner told NBC News. “It’s one of the greatest honors of my life,” said Turner, who also plays for English Premier League leaders Arsenal.
With the United States unlikely to win the trophy, Americans flocked to Qatar – after local residents bought the most of the 3 million tickets sold.
“I think we’re going to go all the way,” Dayton Kendrick, a Houston, Texas native who lives in Doha, said of Team USA. “It will be a force to be reckoned with.”
The United States failed to qualify for the last World Cup, but now boast a young and exciting squad that largely plays for big teams across Europe. They will also face England and Iran in Group B over the next two weeks before the start of the tournament’s Round of 16. England are among the favorites alongside Brazil, France and Argentina.
Kendrick is one of many expats who have called Qatar home in recent years as it has transformed into a modern hub playing an outsized role on the world stage. Qataris number around 350,000, although the conservative Muslim nation is home to around 3 million people from 90 countries in total.