World Cup hosts Qatar ‘gripped by football fever’ despite thousands of empty seats at opening game

World Cup hosts Qatar ‘gripped by football fever’ despite thousands of empty seats at opening game

One of the chief organisers of the World Cup believes host nation Qatar is "gripped by football fever" despite Sunday’s opening game featuring thousands of empty seats as fans left early.

With Qatar 2-0 down at half-time to Ecuador, the number of empty seats became increasingly visible in home sections of Al Bayt Stadium from the start of the second half onwards, and by the final 15 minutes the ground was virtually deserted except for the exuberant Ecuadorians.

However, Nasser Al Khater, the chief executive of World Cup 2022, insisted the country is excited to be hosting the finals, which were so controversially awarded back in 2010.

"Qatar 2022 is finally here and we celebrated with a mesmerising opening ceremony, passion in the stands and exciting football on the pitch," he said. "Our nation is gripped by football fever and the party will last all the way to the final on December 18."

Many home fans left during early stages of the second half. (PA)
Many home fans left during early stages of the second half. (PA)

Judging by the rush for the exits, the local fans were in no mood to party by the end at Al Bayt.

But perhaps many were keen to avoid getting caught in traffic congestion. The approaches to the stadium - which is the only one of the eight venues only accessible by road - were gridlocked in the hours before the opening ceremony.

There were other early organisational issues reported too, including overcrowding on Doha's metro system and pushing and shoving as fans tried to gain entry to fan parks.

The opening ceremony did appear to capture the crowd's interest and featured Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman and K-pop star Jung Kook among others.

However, the messages of inclusion jarred in a country where same-sex relationships are criminalised.

Yasir Al Jamal, the director general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said: "After more than a decade of hard work and close collaboration with stakeholders across the country, a unique edition of the FIFA World Cup is finally here.

"It is sure to live long in the memory of fans in Qatar and across the globe."

Additional reporting by Press Association.