DOHA, QATAR — On Saturday evening, on the pristine streets of Souq Waqif in Doha, somewhere in the course of the incense burners and the spice merchants and the squawking aviaries, something approximating a World Cup ultimately began to take shape.
Restaurants had been decked out within the flags of the 32 competing nations. There have been shops selling headdresses bearing America’s stars and stripes, the Argentine sun, Brazil’s Ordem e Progresso. And there have been a whole lot of fans, their colours pinned to their chests or wrapped around their shoulders, mixing and milling and singing and smiling.
It felt, on Saturday, like something had ended: FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s extraordinary, strafing attack on anyone he could consider was a fitting culmination to 12 years of controversy and scandal and recrimination concerning the incontrovertible fact that soccer’s crown jewel, the most important sporting event on the planet, has been brought here, to this tiny enclave of absurd wealth.
Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The query now could be what comes next. There are tickets still unsold for a fistful of group stage games. The expected influx of fans has not yet began. Barely 48 hours before the primary game, Qatar’s authorities decided that — actually — beer wouldn’t be sold at stadiums. The goal posts, it seems, can still shift.
Qatar has spent 12 years preparing itself, and FIFA the identical period of time steeling itself, for this World Cup to start. What form of World Cup it would be, though? We’re about to seek out out.