World Cup is about to kick off as Benzema blow rocks France

World Cup is about to kick off as Benzema blow rocks France


The World Cup begins on Sunday with hosts Qatar and Ecuador as the month-long football spectacle finally gets underway after a tortuous 12-year preparation dogged by controversy off the pitch.

Foreign government officials, VIPs and celebrities will be in the crowd as the first World Cup opens in the Arab world at the Bedouin tent-inspired Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, 50 kilometers outside Doha.

The venue is among a series of brand new stadiums being built for the tournament, which has cost Qatar an estimated US$200 billion.

South Korean K-pop star Jung Kook will lead the 30-minute opening ceremony, which organizers said on Sunday would reflect themes of “humanity, respect and inclusion.”

World Cup organizers hope the start of football will quell the controversy that has overshadowed preparations for the tournament since Qatar was named host country in a surprise FIFA vote in 2010.

The treatment of migrant workers in Qatar and the Gulf state’s human rights record have dominated headlines ahead of the tournament.

On Saturday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino went on the offensive, aggressively dismissing the slur against the event, arguing that much of the criticism was unfair.

“This one-sided teaching of moral lessons is pure hypocrisy,” Infantino said.

“I don’t want to give you any life lessons, but what’s going on here is deeply, deeply unjust.”

It looks like controversy is sure to rumble into the tournament even after the action has started.

Several participating European nations – including England, Germany and Denmark – have announced their players will be wearing rainbow-colored “OneLove” bracelets as a gesture of solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.

The move raises the prospect of disciplinary action from FIFA, which on Saturday announced plans to provide teams with their own alternative armbands.

Infantino insisted that all World Cup visitors are welcome regardless of their sexual orientation.

“I have spoken to senior leadership on this issue,” he said. “You can confirm I can confirm that everyone is welcome.”

– Benzema blows, Brazil arrives –

All 32 teams competing in the World Cup have now arrived, with five-time world champions Brazil being the last to land in Doha late on Saturday.

Defending champions France suffered another injury-related hammer blow early on Sunday after it was confirmed star striker and Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema had been sidelined from the tournament with an injury.

The Real Madrid star limped out of a training session at the French camp on Saturday night with a left thigh injury.

The French FA later confirmed in a statement that the 34-year-old would need “a three-week recovery period” and would not take part in the competition.

“I’m very sad for Karim, for whom this World Cup was a big goal,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.

“Despite this new blow to the French team, I have every confidence in my team. We will do everything we can to meet the great challenge that awaits us.”

Benzema’s withdrawal comes as France are already struggling with the absence of star midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante through injury.

Brazil, favorites by many bookies, were greeted by hundreds of fans from South Asia and South America.

More to explorer