Qatar opens first World Cup in Middle East in front of leaders and fans

AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) – Qatar opened the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East on Sunday before world leaders and football fans who flocked to this energetic nation after it was hit by a regional boycott and international criticism.

With the soft voice of American actor Morgan Freeman and an Arabic theme featuring camels, the opening ceremony began with the promise “Everyone is welcome”.

Regardless of Qatar’s on-pitch result against Ecuador, Doha has already drawn Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the tournament’s opening ceremony and game.

The fact that Prince Mohammed, whose nation closed Qatar’s only land border to the world through the kingdom after a year-long political dispute, will attend shows how far the rapprochement between the two nations has progressed.

Newspaper columns during the crisis had even suggested digging a trench along the 87-kilometer border and filling it with nuclear waste at the height of the conflict. While it was rhetorical bluster, it showed how deep anger ran in the region amid the dispute – which Kuwait’s then-ruler suspected almost sparked war.