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Qatar Got the World Cup It Wanted


DOHA, Qatar — In the long run, Qatar got what it wanted.

The tiny desert state, a thumb-shaped peninsula, craved nothing greater than to be higher known, to be a player on the world stage, when in 2009 it launched what appeared like an improbable bid to stage the lads’s soccer World Cup, the preferred sporting event on earth. Hosting the tournament has cost greater than anyone could have imagined — in treasure, in time, in lives.

But on Sunday night, because the fireworks filled the sky above Lusail, because the Argentina fans sang and their star, Lionel Messi, beamed while clasping a trophy he had waited a lifetime to the touch, everyone knew Qatar.

The spectacular denouement — a dream final pitting Argentina against France; a primary World Cup title for Messi, the world’s best player; a pulsating match settled after six goals and a penalty shootout — made sure of that. And as if to be certain, to place the nation’s final imprint on the primary World Cup within the Middle East, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, stopped a beaming Messi as he made his solution to collect the most important trophy in the game and pulled him back. There was another thing that needed to be done.

He pulled out a golden fringed bisht, the black cloak worn within the Gulf for special occasions, and wrapped it around Messi’s shoulders before handing over the 18-karat gold trophy.

The celebration ended a tumultuous decade for a tournament awarded in a bribery scandal; stained by claims of human rights abuses and the deaths and injuries suffered by the migrant staff hired to construct Qatar’s $200 billion World Cup; and shadowed by controversial decisions on the whole lot from alcohol to armbands.

Yet for one month Qatar has been the middle of the world, pulling off a feat none of its neighbors within the Arab world had managed to realize, one which at times had seemed unthinkable within the years since Sepp Blatter, the previous FIFA president, made the stunning announcement inside a Zurich conference hall on Dec. 2, 2010, that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup.

It’s improbable the game will see such an unlikely host again soon. Qatar was perhaps amongst essentially the most ill-suited hosts for a tournament of the dimensions of the World Cup, a rustic so lacking in stadiums and infrastructure and history that its bid was labeled “high risk” by FIFA’s own evaluators. However it took advantage of the one commodity it had in plentiful supply: money.

Backed by seemingly bottomless financial resources to fuel its ambitions, Qatar launched into a project that required nothing lower than the constructing, or rebuilding, of its entire country in service to a monthlong soccer tournament. Those billions were spent inside its borders — seven recent stadiums were constructed and other major infrastructure projects were accomplished at enormous financial and human cost. But when that was not enough, it spent lavishly outside its boundaries, too, acquiring sports teams and sports rights value billions of dollars, and hiring sports stars and celebrities to support its cause.

And all that was on display Sunday. By the point the ultimate game was played within the $1 billion Lusail Stadium, Qatar couldn’t lose. The sport was being shown across the Middle East on beIN Sports, a sports broadcasting behemoth arrange within the aftermath of Qatar’s winning the World Cup hosting rights. It also could lay claim to the 2 best players on the sphere, Argentina’s Messi and the French star Kylian Mbappé, each of whom are under contract to the Qatar-owned French club Paris St.-Germain.

Mbappé, who had scored the primary hat trick in a final in over a half-century, finished the sport sitting on the grass, consoled by President Emmanuel Macron of France, an invited guest of the emir, as Argentina’s players danced in celebration throughout him.

The competition delivered compelling — and sometimes troubling — story lines from the outset, with the intensely political opening at Al Bayt Stadium, an unlimited venue designed to appear like a Bedouin tent. That night, Qatar’s emir had sat side by side with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, lower than three years after the latter had led a punishing blockade of Qatar.

For a month, deals were discussed and alliances were made. Qatar’s team was not a think about its World Cup debut; it lost all three of its games, exiting the competition with the worst performance of any host within the competition’s history.

There would even be other challenges, a few of Qatar’s own making, like a sudden prohibition on the sale of alcohol inside the stadium perimeters only two days before that first game — a last-minute decision that left Budweiser, a longtime sponsor of soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, to fume on the sideline.

On the tournament’s second day, FIFA crushed a campaign by a gaggle of European teams to wear an armband to advertise inclusivity, a part of efforts promised to campaign groups and critics of their home countries, after which Qatar quashed efforts by Iranian fans to spotlight ongoing protests of their country.

But on the sphere, the competition delivered. There have been great goals and great games, stunning upsets and an abundance of peculiar rating lines that created recent heroes, most notably within the Arab world.

First got here Saudi Arabia, which may now lay claim to having beaten the World Cup champion within the group stage. Morocco, which had just once reached the knockout stage, became the primary African team to advance to the semifinals, pulling off a succession of barely believable victories over European soccer heavyweights: Belgium, Spain after which Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

Those results sparked celebration across the Arab world and in a handful of major European capitals, while also providing a platform for fans in Qatar to advertise the Palestinian cause, the one intrusion of politics that Qatari officials did nothing to discourage.

Within the stands, the backdrop was a curious one, with several games appearing in need of supporters after which mysteriously filling up within the minutes after kickoff, when gates were opened to grant spectators — a lot of them the South Asian migrants — entry freed from charge. The true variety of paying spectators is unlikely to ever be known, their empty seats filled by hundreds of the identical laborers and migrants who had built the stadium and the country, and who kept it running in the course of the World Cup.

That group, largely drawn from countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal, was essentially the most visible face of Qatar to the estimated a million visitors who traveled to the tournament. They worked as volunteers at stadiums, served the food and manned the metro stations, buffed the marble floors and shined the hand rails and door knobs on the scores of newly built hotels and apartment complexes.

By the tip of the tournament, most of those fans had gone, leaving the Argentines — an estimated temporary population of 40,000 — to offer the sonic backdrop to the ultimate game. Wearing sky blue and white stripes, they converged on the Lusail Stadium, creating the kind of authentic World Cup atmosphere — bouncing and singing throughout 120 minutes of play, after which long afterward — that no amount of Qatari wealth could buy.

They’d gotten exactly what they wanted from the World Cup. And so did Qatar.

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