The Qatar FIFA World Cup is finally up and running with the Gulf nation opening its door with this tournament set to go down as one of the most talked about and controversial World Cups in history.
The build-up to the first tournament to be held in a Muslim country in the Middle East has been overshadowed by a number of controversies, but all 32 competing nations have been told to "focus on the football", but players have been urged to use their influence to speak up about the issues in the country.
Following FIFA president, Gianni Infantino’s extraordinary monologue at a news conference in Doha - where spoke for nearly an hour to passionately defend Qatar and the tournament, all is set for what will be the shortest World Cup since Argentina 1978 and the first to take place in the winter season – what, furthermore, means the cessation of regular season programmes in many of the established leagues in Europe and beyond.
It means that the organisers have had to schedule four games most days during the group stages, with no turnaround time between the groups and the knockout stages. The last 16 stage will start the day after the group stages end.
Brazil head into the competition as tournament favourites, while Lionel Messi's Argentina are among the front-runners too, but European nations such as defending champions France, Germany, England, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Croatia will fancy their chances too.
Players to look out for include Brazil’s Neymar, Kylian Mbappé of France, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Senegal’s Kalidou Koulibaly, Gareth Bale of Wales, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, England’s Harry Kane, Luka Modric of Croatia, the USA’s Brenden Aaronson, Uruguay captain, Luis Suarez and a plethora of other big names set to shine during this world ‘party of football’.
Qatar vs. Ecuador kicked things off in what hopes to be one of the biggest sporting events – in one of the world’s smallest countries.
Whatever the controversies surrounding this World Cup, there’s no stopping it now. So, let the games begin!