England’s wonderkids Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka and veteran Raheem Sterling have helped take England to a 3-0 lead over Iran in their opening match of the World Cup this afternoon.
The Birmingham-born Borussia Dortmund wonderkid, 19, sent thousands of fans in the stadium wild – and millions at home – as he rose to nod it home after a cross from Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.
And minutes later Saka smashed home a left foot shot off the crossbar. Around a minute later Sterling blasted in a volley following a cross from Saka.
The Three Lions were also denied a clear penalty just three minutes into the game, when Harry Maguire was clearly dragged down in the box. Maguire then headed against the crossbar.
Thousands of Three Lions supporters are in the Khalifa Stadium in Doha including the WAGs of the players and David Beckham while millions are watching at home, work or in pubs with high streets across the UK deserted as people settled down for the 1pm match.
England took the knee as they started their first World Cup campaign against Iran in one of the most politically-charged matches in English football history after a row over wearing a rainbow captain’s armband for Harry Kane, which was dropped after pressure from FIFA.
Kane looked serious as he led the team on to the pitch. The England captain did not wear the ‘OneLove’ rainbow armband after the threat of a yellow card proved too much of a risk for the FA. Alan Shearer said today that Kane had been put in an impossible position ahead of one of the biggest games of his career, but added that he would probably have worn the armband himself.
Kane was wearing the official FIFA ‘No Discrimination’ armband, having removed his England jacket following the national anthems. Loud whistles greeted the Iranian anthem, with the whole Iran team opting not to sing.
The entire England team then took the knee and Harry Kane appeared to raise his fist – but the Iranians did not take part.
England fans were furious by the failure to award the Three Lions a penalty just three minutes into their World Cup opener. England had an early corner which was taken by Kieran Trippier and Harry Maguire appeared to be dragged down by Iranian defender Roozbeh Cheshmi. Shortly afterwards the match was stopped for 10 minutes after a head injury to Iran’s goalkeeper, who was replaced. Maguire then hit the crossbar with a header as England dominated.
Thousands of England fans have descended on Qatar and have managed to sniff out £12 pints ahead of the team’s first match of the World Cup today – but some told MailOnline their trips have cost £50,000 and criticised the lack of atmosphere in Doha before the big game.
Supporters packed out hotels, sports bars and Irish pubs before heading to the Khalifa Stadium for the 1pm kick off UK time where booze has been banned by the Gulf state’s Emir at the 11th hour.
But they endured chaotic scenes outside the Khalifa stadium after their tickets disappeared from the FIFA app on their mobile phones.
Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham and Harry Maguire also lowered themselves to the pitch to take the knee before the match with Iran began
Harry Kane takes the knee before the kick off in an anti-racism stance
Kane was wearing the official FIFA ‘No Discrimination’ armband, having removed his England jacket following the national anthems. The rainbow armband was expected to be worn but the threat of a booking stopped it
Harry Kane also raised his arm as the England team took the knee in a gesture not mirrored by the Iranians
Harry Maguire appeared to be dragged down to the floor by Iran defender Roozbeh Cheshmi
There was a 10 minute delay after goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand of Iran clashed heads with his teammate. He had to come off
Rebecca Cooke, girlfriend of England’s Phil Foden, with son Ronnie Foden in the stands before the FIFA World Cup Group B match
Tolami Benson, partner of Bukayo Saka of England, looks on from the stands
Georgina Irwin, fiance of England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, with Aaron’s mother a father, Caroline and Nick Ramsdale
David Beckham was seen in the stands before the match this afternoon
Former England captain Beckham, who has come under criticism for his role as an ambassador for Qatar, was pictured inthe stands at the stadium today
Fans at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha this afternoon
Raheem Sterling’s partner Paige Milian shared an Instagram story of one of their children arriving at the stadium for the match
Beckham then changed into a suit as he made his way to the stands shortly before kick-off
Thousands of fans queued in the searing heat as they stared at their mobile phones wondering why their electronic tickets had disappeared.
England fans then received an email from FIFA which contained a QR code to allow them to enter the stadium.
England WON’T wear ‘OneLove’ rainbow armband: Harry Kane is forced to back down over LGBT band as FA says it ‘can’t put players in a position where they face sporting sanctions’
Harry Kane has already been pictured wearing the OneLove armband while training in Qatar, ahead of England’s match against Iran. He now won’t
Harry Kane will not wear the ‘OneLove’ rainbow armband for England’s World Cup opener after the threat of a yellow card proved too much of a risk for the FA.
The armband is a show of solidarity for the LGBT+ community and captain Kane has said he wanted to wear it at kick-off at 1pm. Homosexuality is still illegal in Qatar.
But FIFA has strict rules about apparel that can be worn by players and the armband is not allowed under the code.
It meant Kane could have faced an immediate booking this afternoon if he walked out wearing the ‘OneLove’ band.
If he wore it again in their second match, the skipper could have been slapped with another yellow, automatically banning him from the third game.
In a statement the Football Association said: ‘We have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armband in FIFA World Cup games.
‘We cannot put our players in a situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play’.
Most tickets for games at the tournament are electronic. Angry fans labelled FIFA a farce claiming that the technical glitch had spoiled their fun of the pre-match build up.
Sanjay Puri, 36 from Birmingham fumed: ‘It’s a joke. You would have thought that FIFA would have their IT in order. How has something like this happened?’
Paul Sims, 40 who had travelled from Dubai said: ‘I was outside the stadium and about to use my electronic ticket but then a message appeared saying it wasn’t working. Luckily I got an email with a QR code but I had to wait more than an hour to get in.’
Further chaos resulted from stadium security that every is scanned along with fan identity cards to ensure it belongs to the right person.
Security also confiscated items like sun cream, sweets and snacks further causing delays and annoying fans.
England fans started knocking back the pints on the morning of today’s World Cup game and mocked the tournament alcohol ban by singing: ‘We’ve got all the booze in Qatar.’
Carpenter Tom Miller, 24 from Maidstone, Kent kissed his England badge and said: ‘It’s hot outside and this beer tastes great. We’re not worried about not being able to drink outside stadiums because we’ll make sure that we’ll have a belly full before we leave for the match’.
His friend Steve Jenkins, 26 said: ‘We’ve been on the lash all night and I’m sure we’ll have lots more. This pub’s great. You’d never believe you’re in Qatar. It’s like the Queen Vic in EastEnders.’
Carole Brocklesby, 59, from Hull told MailOnline: ‘Everyone is behind England. There aren’t that many fans here. But my husband, Paul and I just had to come. We’ve spent about £50,000, but worth every penny if we win the World Cup’.
Her husband Paul, 68, said: ‘Every England fan here in Qatar has paid a lot of money and really loves the players and the team.
‘Obviously our supporters are behind them. But if Harry Kane gets himself booked twice, because of the armband, then I’m afraid I don’t agree with that. It’s about the team and their supporters and trying to win the trophy.’
Back home in England pubs started filling up at dawn this morning with supporters. Bosses are expected to let staff watch the match at work or home or face a flurry of staff calling in sick or bunking off. One in ten schools are expected to show the game in class.
This morning supporters in Qatar are already drinking booze despite its sale being strictly controlled in the Muslim country.
Videos showed them downing drinks and singing songs in the hours before the Three Lions’ big game in an English-themed pub.
England’s Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Conor Coady with teammates on the pitch before the match
The England team on the pitch ahead of the match with Iran
Gareth Southgate, Head Coach of England, arrives at the stadium followed by star player Harry Kane ahead of the World Cup match in Doha
David Beckham in Doha today where he is an ambassador for the Qatar World Cup
Sarah Thompson, 42 from Bristol: ‘This is great. It feels like being in a traditional English pub.
‘My partner and I paid a lot of money for these tickets and we’ll know soon enough if i was worth it. I was worried that we might not be able to get a drink but I’ve had a few beers and I’ll have a few more so I’m happy.’
There was loud cheering as two fans walked into the bar dressed as St George.
Sarah added: ‘The Qataris have been great. All they’ve wanted to do is take pictures with us. We feel like film stars.’
Around 4,000 England supporters are believed to be heading to Qatar for the World Cup with around 2,800 expected to be in the ground to watch Gareth Southgate’s men play in a match they are widely expected to win.
Many flew into Qatar this morning, some from the UK and others from Dubai and Abu Dhabi where the rules on drinking is more relaxed and accommodation more plentiful.
But the stadium is unlikely to packed out in a way England games at major tournaments usually are with the host’s opening match only a third full after they were easily beaten by Ecuador last night.
There were also empty seats at the opening ceremony featuring Morgan Freeman and attended by the Qatari royals, VIPs including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, David Beckham and FIFA delegates. The show, which promised that football is for everyone, reportedly cost £10million to put together.
Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions today faces the most politically-charged World Cup match in its history today when they face Iran.
England’s team have confirmed that they will take the knee before they kick off against Iran. All eyes will be on the Iranian team and whether any rebel players will give any scissor-like gesture to support the women of Iran amid mass protests in their country. There are also calls for England players to do it by the families of Britons held by the Tehran regime.
Supporter John Booth lines up the beers in a Qatar pub as the Three Lions begin their World Cup campaign today
England fans get the drinks in in Qatar
Thousands of England fans have descended on Qatar and have managed to sniff out £12 pints ahead of the first match of the World Cup.
England fans at the Villaggio Mall ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group B match
Fans with England flags in the stadium before kick off
England fans Joanne and Tony Bate outside of the stadium ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group B match at the Khalifa International Stadium, Doha
Supporters wore t-shirts in support of the protests in Iran for the match
England fans outside of the Khalifa Stadium in Qatar for the first match of the tournament for the Three Lions
Paul and Carole Brocklesby from Hull in Qatar today on a trip that has cost them £50,000 – but said it will be ‘worth it’ if England win
England and Iran fans outside of the stadium in Qatar,during the FIFA World Cup
England and Wales football fans arrive at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar
Thousands of England fans are in Qatar for the match – although this is expected to peak for the Wales game
Alex Major and his father John before England’s big game today
Videos showed England supporters downing drinks and singing songs in the hours before the game.
Fans enjoy drinks before the game with around 3,000 supporters in Doha for the match
An England fan adjusts his headdress at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha
England’s Harry Kane during a training session at the Al Wakrah Sports Club Stadium yesterday
‘Stop this insufferable virtue signalling!’ Viewers accuse Gary Lineker and Alex Scott of ‘hypocrisy’ as they give impassioned speeches about Qatar human rights record – from studio in stadium
BBC’s Gary Lineker addressed the human right’s issues in Qatar in his opening monologue at the start of the organisation’s coverage
Viewers of the first World Cup match have accused the BBC of brazen ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘virtue signalling’ as pundits launched into a segment about controversies and human rights issue in Qatar, while broadcasting live from a stadium in Doha as the tournament got underway on Sunday.
Gary Lineker’s opening monologue for BBC’s introduction to the World Cup addressed the human rights record in Qatar immediately. The controversial competition kicked off today with the host nation facing Ecuador in Group A, with the game live on the BBC.
He had previously been criticised, along with other football commentators and journalists, for agreeing to attend and be paid for the tournament in Qatar given its deeply conservative stance on issues such as gay rights.
Alan Shearer, Alex Scott and Ashley Williams were working as pundits and also addressed Qatar’s behaviour since being handed the tournament.
The BBC showed the first live game, but opted only to show the opening ceremony, which featured disgraced actor Morgan Freeman, online.
Football fans reacted with anger to today’s coverage and said they simply wanted to watch the matches, pointing out that if the presenters were so concerned over human rights issues they could simply have refused to fly there instead.
It is just one of multiple controversies to hit the tournament prior to kick-off, including a ban on alcohol in stadiums and the choice of Morgan Freeman to contribute to the opening ceremony.
One social media user said: ‘Gary Lineker on BBC News talking about the lack of human rights in Qatar. All while he’s sitting there and taking the money. The hypocrisy of the guy knows no bounds!’
Other supporters also expressed their concern that talisman Kane could miss some of the World Cup, if he carries out his wish to wear a rainbow coloured armband in support of gay people in Qatar, where homosexuality is forbidden and punished by the law.
Alex Major, 20, from North London said: ‘Good for Harry Kane, but if he gets booked in two games, he’ll be suspended and that’s too much of a price to pay.’ The Arsenal fan added: ‘It could damage our World Cup hopes and cost us a lot.’
His father, John added: ‘I have been to a lot of world cups. But the excitement of this one is just not the same.
‘I admire Harry Kane for taking a stance. But I wouldn’t be very happy if we ended up missing the match. He’s our best player. We need every player to fight as best as they can to bring the World Cup home.’
Solicitor Karen Bareham, 60, from Guildford, Surrey, said it was ‘so far so good’ for her trip to Qatar as she arrived at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Asked if the alcohol stadium ban had affected her plans, she told the PA news agency: ‘A little bit, I literally haven’t had a drink yet, I’m not saying I’m shaking but there’s a lot of conversation about where can we get a drink, it’s part of the football culture and that is how it is.’
Ms Bareham added: ‘It is a change to what we would ordinarily do but so far so good, and then we’ve jumped on some Wales tickets for later tonight, so it’s two games for us today and then do a bit of sightseeing.’
Ms Bareham, on England captain Harry Kane wearing the rainbow armband, said: ‘I think he should wear it, I think it’d be the right thing to do, if he picks up a yellow card so be it.’
Shane Jackson, 33, from Malvern, Worcestershire, said: ‘They’re going to take the knee as well before the game, I think Harry Kane shouldn’t have the burden on him – of being booked should I wear it, should we focus on the football – the political stuff should be left behind, I know they’ve put their thoughts out on it, but let the players concentrate on the football now.’
Christian Parker, 29, arrived on a shuttle flight from Dubai, where he lives.
Speaking at the Khalifa International Stadium, Mr Parker told the PA news agency: “The Iranian fans were on the train as well, they’re a lot louder than us so far, we feel a bit outnumbered at the moment.”
Reece Parker, 27, from London and who flew in from Dubai, said he expected a tight first game.
He added on England’s chances: “We’ve got a good chance, I don’t think there’s any outstanding favourites.”
Paul Dawson, 52, from Newcastle, who is also doing the matchday shuttle flights, said: “I hope we can win it, I will be pleased with the semi-final but quarter-final probably realistic.”
Mr Dawson said the alcohol stadium ban had affected his plans “a little bit”, adding: “It’s not the end of the world, we’ll make up for it when we’re back in Dubai.”
The FA expected a fine for breaching FIFA’s statutes but the prospect of Kane – arguably England’s most important player – being booked, and hence face suspension, was a scenario English football’s governing body were concerned about.
Kane said: ‘We have made it clear as a team, staff and organisation that we want to wear the armband. I know the FA are talking to FIFA and by game time they will have had their decision’.
Head coach Gareth Southgate added: ‘I know there are some conversations going on. A number of the European countries have spoken. We have made our position clear, so hopefully everything will be resolved before the game.’
England are one of nine countries wearing the ‘One Love’ armband.
Indeed, news of a possible booking also reached the Germany and Holland camp yesterday.
Holland skipper Virgil van Dijk said ahead of his side’s game versus Senegal: ‘Nothing changed from our point of view.
‘If I will get a yellow card for wearing it then we would have to discuss it because I don’t like to play while being on a yellow.’
But this morning Holland U-turned and said Virgil van Dijk will not wear it because ‘it was not possible to jointly come to a reasonable solution’ with FIFA.
Less than an hour later – England and Wales followed suit.
The latest row comes after the competition got off to a tumultuous start on Sunday as it was officially opened by Morgan Freeman in a spectacular opening ceremony.
The actor, 85, who four years ago apologised following accusations of sexual harassment, raised eyebrows narrated a toe-curling segment titled The Calling, telling hundreds of millions of people watching around the world: ‘We all gather here in one big tribe.’
When the action on the pitch finally began, two seconds early as the referee did not wait for the stadium countdown to be over, there was bad news for the host nation.
Watched by the Gulf state’s royals and David Beckham, the home side lost 0-2 to Ecuador, whose fans mocked Qatar’s alcohol ban by chanting ‘queremos cerveza’, or ‘we want beer’. Beckham, who has been criticised for being a paid ambassador to the Qatar World Cup, watched from the VIP seats.
The oil-rich nation has faced a barrage of criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, LGBT rights and social restrictions, staking its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament. It has been accused of trying to stage manage the World Cup with ‘fake fans’ to spin positive coverage.
In parts of the stadium the majority of seats were left empty for the second half of the match between Ecuador and Qatar
England coach Gareth Southgate said he hopes ‘everything will be resolved before the game’ and said the team had made their feelings on the matter clear
Rows of empty seats were visible behind Morgan Freeman as he narrates the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Qatar
There were scores of empty seats in the stadium during the opening ceremony of FIFA World Cup ahead of the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador
Disgraced actor Morgan Freeman (left) performed the opening segment with World Cup ambassador and Qatari citizen Ghanim al-Muftah (right)
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (left) waves to the crowd as he arrives with FIFA President Gianni Infantino (right) for the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
What is the OneLove armband?
Nine countries including England and Wales had planned to sport the OneLove armband for this year’s tournament.
The armband has its roots in the Netherlands and is designed to promote diversity and inclusion with football.
In 2021, Georginio Wijnaldum wore the armband at a European Championship game in Hungary with the consent of UEFA, the governing body of European football.
It is a white armband with a heart emblazoned on it, accompanied by the words ‘One’ and ‘Love’.
The armband was designed to advocate for the rights of the LGBT+ community, among other marginalised groups within football, and to support equality for all.
Although it has a core message related to the LGBT+ community, it is far more than that, and represents a call to respect everyone’s human rights regardless of age, race, sexual or gender identity, nationality or disability.
Yesterday, thousands of empty seats could be seen during the ceremony, but after the opening match kicked off at 4pm UK time, the stadium – designed to resemble a traditional Bedouin tent – appeared to suddenly fill, with many seats taken by the show’s performers.
Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, presided over the ceremony, flanked by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who has drawn ridicule by branding European nations racist – and saying he understood discrimination because he grew up with ginger hair and freckles.
Last night’s glitzy show, also featuring Jung Kook of South Korean boy band BTS, was intended to draw a line under the controversies. But even as it unfolded, riot police were called to tackle crowd chaos at a fan zone in the capital.
A crush of tens of thousands of fans pushed and shoved against police lines to enter the Fifa Fan Festival on Doha’s Corniche, which has a giant TV screen for viewing matches and a beer tent. Riot police armed with batons and shields stood guard as supporters pleaded with officers to let them through. ‘It’s very risky – people could die,’ said one, Hatem El-Berarri.
He said: ‘Old people, women, they cannot handle crowds like this.’ In a further blow to organisers, Colombian star Maluma, who sings on the World Cup’s official anthem, stormed out of a TV interview after being accused of ‘whitewashing’ human rights abuses in Qatar.
During the show, in a pointed riposte to criticism over Qatar’s human rights record, Freeman put on an act with 20-year-old entrepreneur and influencer Ghanim al Muftah, who was born with caudal regression syndrome, a rare disorder which impairs the development of the lower spine.
He said to the Hollywood star: ‘Come on over.’ When Freeman replied ‘I’m not sure, am I welcome?’, al Muftah said: ‘We sent out the call because everyone is welcome. This is an invitation to the whole world.’ Freeman, whose films include Hollywood classic The Shawshank Redemption, told crowds in the Al Bayt stadium: ‘How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together, if only one way is accepted?’
Last week, Qatar’s Supreme Committee, run by the country’s morality sheikhs, slapped a last-minute ban on beer in the stadiums.
Yesterday official sponsor Budweiser released a photo of tens of thousands of cans stacked in a warehouse, offering to give it all away to the World Cup winners. Morgan’s appearance at the ceremony comes four years after he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight women and issued an apology to ‘anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected’ by his behaviour, saying it was ‘never my intent’.
Football fans reacted with fury on social media, with one remarking acidly: ‘It is so disappointing to see Morgan Freeman take the money and support an oppressive regime.’ Qatar last night said the crowd incident arose after the main gate was temporarily closed because the venue had reached capacity early.
Fans drink beer during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Fan Festival at Al Bidda Park on November 20
South Korean singer Jung Kook performs during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha
Supporters watch the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha
Fans of Qatar cheer at tribune during FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
General view of the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 group A Opening Match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, 20 November
Performers perform during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
A drummer performs during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
Three Camels, together with their handlers during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor. Picture date: Sunday November 20, 2022
David Beckham looks on from an executive box Qatar v Ecuador, FIFA World Cup 2022, Group A, Football, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar
Morgan Freeman and Ghanim al Muftah during the opening ceremony. Supporters have now arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20
Former Argentina and World Cup winner Diego Maradona is seen on the big screen during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
Ecuador fans in the Al Bayt stadium celebrate as their team takes the lead against Qatar in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup this evening
Qatar fans were seen walking up the stairs to leave the Al Bayt stadium while the match was still taking place after Ecuador took a two goal lead
Rows of empty seats were seen in the stands before the final whistle during the opening match between Ecuador and Qatar
A man sat in the midst of rows of empty seats reacts during the opening fixture of the FIFA World Cup
Empty seats were clearly visible in the background of the ceremony, and while these appeared to have filled with fans by the time of kick-off at 7pm local time, they emptied again before the final whistle.
Qatar was soundly beaten by a comfortable Ecuador in the opening match of the tournament, which the hosts demanded take place today after it had been previously scheduled to take place on Monday.
Losing 2-0, organisers were left red-faced as thousands of spectators departed while the game was still taking place in full view of the cameras. In a historic match, it is the first time the host nation has lost its opening game in any World Cup to date.
Anger wasn’t just directed towards the hosts – the BBC also came under fire in a tense opening day after Gary Lineker and fellow pundits Alex Scott and Alan Shearer chose to address the human rights abuses at the top of their programme.
Lineker said: ‘It’s the most controversial World Cup in recent history and a ball hasn’t even been kicked.
‘Ever since FIFA chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to host football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions.
‘From accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who’ve built the stadiums where many lost their lives. Homosexuality is illegal here and women’s rights are also in the spotlight. Also the decision to switch the tournament from summer to winter.
‘Against that back drop, there is a tournament to be played here that will be watched and enjoyed around the world. Stick to football say FIFA, well we will for a couple of minutes at least.’
Morgan Freeman kicked off the World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar today in front of the country’s royals and rows of empty seats following weeks of criticism over the country’s human rights record.
The actor, 85, who four years ago apologised following accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, today narrated the event’s opening segment titled ‘The Calling’, telling viewers ‘We all gather here in one big tribe’ as fans descended on Doha city centre for the imminent kick off of the world’s greatest football festival.
Freeman spoke with 20-year-old Qatari entrepreneur and influencer Ghanim al Muftah – a FIFA World Cup Ambassador who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare disorder which impairs the development of the lower spine – who said to the actor: ‘Come on over.’
When Freeman replied ‘I’m not sure, Am I welcome?’, al Muftah said: ‘We sent out the call because everyone is welcome. This is an invitation to the whole world.’
Freeman replied: ‘I remember, even after hearing the call, instead of seeing another way, we dismissed it and demanded our own way. And now the world feels even more distant and divided. How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together, if only one way is accepted?’
His appearance comes four years after he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight women and issued an apology to ‘anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected’ by his behaviour, saying it was ‘never my intent’.
Sixteen people – eight witnesses and eight who claimed to be victims – had come forward to allege the actor engaged in ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and ‘harassment’ as they worked alongside him.
Football fans have reacted with fury on social media at the actor’s appearance in the ceremony, with one calling it ‘disappointing’ and another saying: ‘When you have to act out a scene with Morgan Freeman ”welcoming the entire world” to your country for a soccer tournament, maybe you shouldn’t host the World Cup.’
The opening ceremony featured scenes titled ‘Leta’Arafo (To Know One Another)’, followed by ‘Chants of Nations’, a World Cup Medley, a showcase of the official mascots and Jung Kook of South Korean boy band BTS.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani arrived at the stadium flanked by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, to a roaring crowd, and took their seats alongside other Arab leaders.
A show then unfolded on the pitch, featuring three camels, American actor Morgan Freeman and a performance of a new tournament song called Dreamers featuring singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS, alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, are among leaders at the in a tent-shaped stadium ahead of the first match between the hosts and Ecuador.
Qatar, which has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination, and FIFA hope the spotlight will now turn to action on the pitch. Organisers have also denied allegations of bribery for hosting rights.
Inside Al Bayt Stadium many seats were still vacant with gridlock on the expressway leading to the arena, where cheers went up as Qatar’s team appeared for their opening match.
The soccer tournament, the first held in the Middle East and the most expensive in its history, is a culmination of Qatar’s soft power push, after a 3-1/2 year boycott by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which ended in 2021.
The UAE, whose rapprochement with Doha has been slower than that of Riyadh and Cairo, sent its vice president who is also ruler of Dubai, where many World Cup fans have opted to stay.
For the first time, a direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Doha landed in Qatar on Sunday despite the absence of formal bilateral ties, in a deal brokered by FIFA to carry both Palestinians and Israelis to the tournament.
The Gulf state’s Deputy Prime Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah, in remarks on state media, said Qatar was reaping benefits of years of ‘hard work and sound planning’.
On Saturday, FIFA’s Infantino rounded on European critics of Qatar, saying engagement was the only way to improve rights, while Doha has also pointed to labour reforms.
Denmark’s and Germany’s team captains will wear One Love armbands as they prepare to compete in a conservative Muslim state where same-sex relations are illegal. Organisers say all are welcome while warning against public affection.
Supporters today arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius.
The vice president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is also Dubai’s ruler, arrived in Qatar for the World Cup opening on Sunday, Qatar’s news agency said.
And Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince and a delegation of ministers arrived in the neighbouring country this morning to attend the opening ceremony, Saudi state media reported.
Mohammed bin Salman was accompanied by the kingdom’s energy, interior, foreign, commerce and investment ministers as well as senior officials including his national security adviser and head of the National Guard, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
Qatari fans in crisp white thobes and women in black shayla headdresses and abayhas were seen filing into the stadium, which has been designed to look like the tents used by nomads.
They were accompanied by Ecuador fans, many of whom donned extravagant headdresses, balaclavas and masks and carried their national flags.
The atmosphere appeared friendly, with both sets of fans stopping to snap photos together outside the stadium’s entry gates.
Artists perform prior the start of the World Cup group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday
James Cleverly, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs is pictured during the FIFA World Cup Group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Singer Jung Kook of South Korea performs during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar
Aritsts perform during the opening ceremony before the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Sunday
Artists performs during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar
A giant World Cup Trophy during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
A photo shows a fireworks display during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20
People gather to watch a live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament, at the Corniche of Doha on November 20, 2022
Qatari singer Dana al-Fardan (C) performs during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022
Former France International Marcel Desailly with the World Cup trophy ahead of the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium
Supporters pose for selfies inside the Al Bayt stadium ahead of the opening ceremony
Many of the labourers who toiled to build the eight stadiums will have watched from the sidelines, unable to afford the highest ticket prices ever for a World Cup despite working tirelessly to fulfil a brutal schedule which saw many of their colleagues perish.
But a lucky few were said to be sprinkled among the well-heeled audience having been gifted tickets by the England football team.
The controversy that has long surrounded the decision to award the tiny Gulf state the World Cup has built to a crescendo ahead of the tournament, with unrelenting scrutiny of its treatment of migrant workers and the LGBT+ community.
‘We are ready,’ Qatar supporter Hakeem Ahmad told Reuters as he entered the stadium with his wife and two children.
‘Whatever happens on the pitch, the world should look kindly on us today.
‘We have organised this party for you. If Qatar can perform well, that would be a bonus for us.
‘We hope that after today people will see Qatar in a different light, for who we really are. It is time to talk positively about Qatar.’
Cathal Kelly, columnist for Canada’s national newspaper the Globe and Mail, summed up the distractions.
‘Once the first ball is kicked, no one cares if they’re holding this thing on a ceremonial burial ground or powering it with coal,’ he wrote.
Qatar fans wave flags and pose for photos outside of Sunday’s opening match
Cameroon fans cheer on the metro in Doha on November 20, 2022 ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament
Fans of the US (L) and Wales (R) gather at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2022. The USA will face Wales in their FIFA World Cup 2022 group B match on 21 November
Ecuador’s supporters wave a flag as they arrive at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022, before the kick-off match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup
Fans of Spain gather at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2022. Spain will face Costa Rica in their FIFA World Cup 2022 group E match on 23 November
That will certainly be the hope of football’s governing body FIFA and Qatari organisers who have pleaded for critics to focus on the football and not let the sport be dragged into ideological or political battles.
‘This is the first time I’ve come to a World Cup,’ Wilmer Saltos, 35, a farmer, who has travelled from Guayaquil on the coast of Ecuador with his brother and sister told Reuters while waiting in the heat to enter the stadium.
‘When we saw that Ecuador was opening the tournament, we thought we just had to be here. There are obviously big cultural differences, you can’t deny it.
‘But for us, today is about the football, we just want to focus on the game.’
While Qatar is hosting one of sport’s biggest parties it will be a mostly alcohol free after officials decided to turn off the beer taps inside stadiums, drawing even more criticism.
Qatar is a typically teetotal nation where tourists can only buy or consume alcohol inside licensed hotels or restaurants.
Exemptions for the World Cup previously meant meant fans were able to buy beers in special ‘fan zones’ or on stadium concourses.
But Qatar reneged on part of that deal, meaning beer can now only be sold only inside the ‘fan zones’ and will not be available in the stadiums.
Pints will cost £12, only be available at certain times, and each person will be limited to a maximum of four to stop them getting drunk.
Beer or no beer, Qataris and thousands of visiting fans have arrived ready to party with throngs packing the FIFA Fan Festival zones in central Doha along the city’s famed Corniche.