Qatar loses opener, US up on Day 2

By JENNA FRYER – AP National Writer

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Middle East’s first World Cup ended Sunday night with a glitzy opening ceremony and a match between Qatar and Ecuador without any beer on sale at the stadium.

The beer ban, imposed two days before the start of the tournament, is the latest controversial pitfall for a global event already under scrutiny for Qatar’s human rights record and the Emirates’ push to prepare the nation for the most compact World Cup in history.

As Qatar dropped its opening game 2-0 to Ecuador, the fan zone in central Doha turned into a chaotic scene as tens of thousands of fans pushed through police lines to enter the venue. Fans were trying to access the enclosed area with big screens to watch matches and buy beer.

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Qatar is home to 3 million people, the majority of whom are migrant workers, and has spent more than $200 billion on upgrades across the energy-rich country, the size of the state of Connecticut or the island of Jamaica. Among the additions are seven new purpose-built venues, including the 60,000-seat Al Bait Stadium, which hosted Sunday’s opening ceremony and first match.

Qatar became the first host country in the 92-year history of the World Cup to lose its opening match.

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Qatar are on the global stage for the first time as hosts but could not stop Ecuador’s captain Ener Valencia, who scored both goals in the first half.

Two of the best players in the world were injured and left the tournament before the tournament even started.

Ballon d’Or winner France striker Karim Benzema is sidelined with a left thigh injury during training on Saturday. Senegal forward Sadio Mane, runner-up to Benzema in the World Player of the Year voting, has been sidelined with a foot injury while playing for Bayern Munich.

Earlier, Germany striker Timo Werner was dropped as well as French midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku and South Korea captain Son Heung-min arrived in Qatar with long-term injuries.

The awarding of the World Cup to Qatar has been a financial boon for FIFA, with soccer’s governing body saying this year’s tournament generated a record $7.5 billion in four years of commercial deals.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia cashed in $1 billion higher than the previous business cycle. Additional cash was raised this year by domestic sponsorship deals, including Qatar Energy, which joined as a top sponsor. Qatari bank QNB and telecom company Ooredoo are also sponsors.

New to the sponsor packages this year is, the first new American sponsor in over a decade.

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The United States will return to the World Cup after missing out on the 2018 tournament in Russia and open against Gareth Bale-led Wales on Monday.

Bale has played for Los Angeles FC and helped them win the MLS Cup earlier this month.

The United States has one of the youngest squads in the 32-team tournament. The three Americans – Gio Reyna, Joe Scally and Yusuf Musah – were 11 years old when the national team last played a World Cup match.

DeAndre Yedlin, 29, is the only holdover from the American team, which was eliminated in the second round by Belgium eight years ago. Yedlin, Christian Pulisic, Kelyn Acosta and Tim Ream were the only four players in the squad when they failed to qualify for Russia.

The first full day of competition will also include a Group B match. Heavily favored England take on Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium and the Netherlands take on Senegal at the Al Thumama Stadium in Group A.

England are favourites, having reached the semi-finals in Russia four years ago and were runners-up at last year’s European Championship. But the Three Lions arrive in Qatar without a win in their last six matches, with the team hoping to reverse their strong record in recent major tournaments.

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Eight of the 13 group leaders from European countries plan to wear “One Love” armbands promoting inclusivity and LGBTQ rights in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are banned.

Bale and England striker Harry Kane are among those who have committed to wearing the armband.

But FIFA equipment rules prohibit such armbands. According to the tournament rules “match staff shall wear uniforms provided by FIFA, including uniforms and FIFA event logos.”

If armbands are deemed inappropriate, players wearing them can be fined or shown yellow cards.

The England squad has indicated it is willing to pay a fine for wearing the armband, as did Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who said “yes” when asked if he intended to go ahead with the silent protest.

FIFA has launched its own captain’s armband in response, along with the United Nations, which will promote a different campaign for each round of the tournament. The theme of the semi-finals is “No Discrimination”. There is no indication that LGBTQ rights are part of any movement.

Read about the 32 teams playing in the World Cup.

AP World Cup coverage: and

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