Doha, Qatar (AFP):
The World Cup kicked off in Qatar on Sunday as the month-long football showpiece finally got under way after a tortuous 12-year build-up dogged by off-field controversies.
Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was present in the impressive Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, 50 kilometres (31 miles) outside of Doha, to watch the host nation face Ecuador.
The Al Bayt venue is one of an array of new stadiums built for the tournament, which has cost Qatar an estimated $200 billion, making it the most expensive World Cup in history.
World Cup organisers hope the start of the football will quell the controversies that have overshadowed preparations for the tournament ever since Qatar was named as host nation in a shock FIFA vote in 2010.
Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and the Gulf state’s human rights record have dominated the pre-tournament headlines.
Controversies look certain to rumble on well into the tournament.
Several European nations taking part — including England, Germany and Denmark — have said their players will wear rainbow-coloured “OneLove” armbands in a gesture of solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.
The move raises the prospect of disciplinary action from FIFA, which has revealed plans to make its own alternative armbands available to teams.