The week-long countdown to the 2022 World Cup has begun in Qatar, with the most prominent footballers turning their eyes to one of the most controversial editions in history.
After the last weekend, the local tournaments were temporarily suspended for six weeks to allow the World Cup in Qatar, but the preparation time for the teams will be short.
The World Cup, which is being held for the first time in the Arab world, kicks off on Sunday when host Qatar faces Ecuador.
The awarding of hosting the World Cup to Qatar led to an unprecedented reorganization of the football calendar around the world, with the organizers forced to hold the event on the outskirts of winter to avoid the high temperature during the summer in the Gulf state.
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Three players expected to be the most prominent stars of the tournament – Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Brazilian Neymar and French Kylian Mbappe – were unharmed in the match that Paris Saint-Germain won over Auxerre 5-0 in the French League on Sunday.
Mbappe, who will lead France’s title defense campaign in Qatar, signed the match with a superb opening goal for PSG.
The Moroccan national team was slapped after a severe injury to its midfielder Amin Harith in the match of his team Marseille in the French League, which will probably exclude him from the finals.
While Monday is the last day to present the final lists of players, Iran chose Sardar Azmoun, its most prominent star, who expressed his support for the demonstrations in his country, in the final squad of 25 players.
Azmoun, who plays for German club Bayer Leverkusen, posted several messages on social media in support of the protests that erupted after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
Hundreds were killed in the unrest as activists called on fans attending Iran’s matches in Qatar to chant Amini’s name.
The launch of the tournament represents the culmination of Qatar’s exceptional campaign, starting with winning the vote for the right to host, and then starting to spend tens of billions of dollars to build stadiums and infrastructure.
FIFA’s appeals to “focus on football” have fallen on deaf ears, as the countdown to matches has heightened scrutiny of the Gulf state’s handling of migrant workers, women and the LGBT community.
South Asian workers have been at the center of an often intense dispute over deaths, injuries and difficult working conditions, foreign media have alleged, since Qatar won the World Cup in 2010.
Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal Friday to FIFA President Gianni Infantino to commit to a compensation package for workers who contributed to the construction of the tournament stadiums.
Qatar rejected most of the attacks on it, and local media criticized the “arrogance” of some Western countries.
Sophia Stone, a Briton living in Doha, said the negative press was unfair.
“I’m not going to listen to everything you hear on the news,” she told AFP.
“If you really want to have an opinion about it, come to Qatar and see for yourself. From what I’m reading, it’s not the same at all. It’s a very open country and everyone is welcome.”
The country of three million people, one of the largest producers of natural gas in the world, has generously spent on the upcoming event.
The construction cost of the new stadiums amounted to more than 6.5 billion dollars, as well as the launch of a driverless metro network at a cost of 36 billion dollars serving five of the eight stadiums.
Some estimates put the total spending on infrastructure over the past decade at $200 billion.
Organizers expect more than one million fans to travel to Qatar, and the country responded to concerns about accommodation shortages by using three cruise ships as fully booked floating hotels in the first two weeks of the tournament.
Organizers revealed that 2.9 million out of 3.1 million tickets were sold as fans stood outside the FIFA Ticket Center in the hope that rare tickets would become available for the most important matches.
Qatar announced its first arrests in connection with the promotion of World Cup tickets on Monday, with three foreign men detained outside official ticketing centers in Doha. No details were given of their nationality.
There is a deep feeling in Europe of unease about a country where there is no tradition of football hosting the tournament. This is at least written by Philipp Lahm, the former captain of the German national team that won the 2014 World Cup, on Sunday, who said that Qatar should not have been allowed to host the World Cup due to human rights violations.
“Giving the World Cup to Qatar is a mistake,” Lam wrote in Die Zeit. “It doesn’t belong there.”
Lufthansa Airlines said an aircraft marked “#Diversity wins!” She will carry the German national team to the World Cup.