December 1 – Hosts Qatar kicked off the Arab Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal, with a 1-0 victory over Bahrain in the tournament’s curtain-raiser, courtesy of a second-half goal from Abulaziz Hatim. Two World Cup venues were inaugurated over the evening of football.
In the first match of the tournament, Tunisia defeated Mauritania 3-1, but all the focus however was on the hosts taking on Bahrain at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha. Following a brief and colourful opening ceremony, the tent-shaped stadium hosted its first official game. Next year, Al Bayt will stage the opening match of the global finals.
The Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended the match. In his address, the FIFA boss said: “Al Bayt is the house where everyone is uniting, where everyone is coming together. It is a symbol for what the World Cup represents. The Arab Cup represents today what the World Cup will represent next year of people coming together, of people being united from all over the world. So, to have games in such a beautiful stadium, in such a symbolic stadium, is something that we have to cherish and that will be crucial for the success of the World Cup.”
The Maroons have sometimes struggled to rekindle their form of the 2019 Asian Cup when they stormed to continental glory in the United Arab Emirates with some swashbuckling football and goals from Ali Almoez and Afif Akram.
The tournament presents a chance for Felix Sanchez’s team to regain some momentum, but Qatar had to labour hard against Bahrain in a close match. After the break, Hatim found a winner with a fine header. They will play Oman and Iraq next in Group A. The two nations drew 1-1 in their match.
In the capital, Stadium 974 was also inaugurated with the United Arab Emirates’ 2-1 victory against Syria. The venue is perhaps the most innovative of those built, with a design inspired by Qatar’s worldwide trade and seafaring and the 974 name referring to the international dialling code for Qatar, as well as the number of shipping containers used in the construction. The 40,000-seat stadium has been built with Qatar’s legacy and sustainability commitments in mind and is fully demountable stadium.
The broader idea of shipping stadium parts elsewhere has however been criticised in some quarters, a part of the ongoing scrutiny the hosts have faced since they were awarded the rights to stage the World Cup in 2010.
Come this time next year, the world will descend on Qatar for the quadrennial high mass of the global game, the World Cup. The tournament, the last in the 32-team format before 48 nations will compete in the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico, promises to be the most compact ever, played for the first time in winter.
To get organisers ready, Qatar is hosting the Arab Cup, first staged in 1963 in Lebanon, and now organised for the first time under the umbrella of world federation FIFA. The tournament, featuring 16 teams from across the region and North Africa, replaces the Confederations Cup as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup hosts, allowing Qatar to identify and solve tournament-related problems.
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