“It will be the best World Cup,” FIFA president Giovanni Infantino said in a rambling press conference on the eve of the World Cup.
And the opening spectacle of lights, fireworks and mysticism transported the 50000+ spectators at the Bedouin tent shaped Al Bayt stadium into the surreal world of Arabian Nights.
The gravitas lent by the booming voice of Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman juxtaposed snuggly with the official song Dreamers crooned by Jungkook, the dream boy of every teenage girl and the youngest member of South Korean boyband BTS.
But earlier in the day, with the opening ceremony, of perhaps the most opposed World Cup of recent times, hours away, the streets of Doha – deserted and non-festive – seem to have missed the memo of the supreme boss. There was no verve or music of Sao Paolo or the friendly smiles and tipsy tribes of Moscow, giving Doha the feel of a soulless play, the stage for which was yet to be erected.
The fans, the heart of any sports event, bear the brunt of the ever-changing goalposts of rules and regulations, and the residents – Indians, Pakistanis and contract workers from Africa easily outnumbering the locals – seemed equally nonplussed about hosting 831 of the best players in the world.
A combative FIFA head had done his best to shield the host from all the criticism. “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a migrant worker, “ he said in attempt to divert the negative attention from a World Cup festival that, till then, had offered very little reasons for celebrations.
But Freeman, Jungkook, mascots of the past editions and the freewheeling La’eeb, a combination of Casper the friendly ghost and the Pillsbury man, gave Qatar and this World Cup something to dream about. And the fans, too, missing in the streets of Doha, made a miraculous presence in the stands, finally bringing in the festivities that every host yearns for.