Smokers have a hard time, even in the Arabian Peninsula. During the strict safety check at Fanfest, the last two remaining lighters go to waste, the inspectors say they’re sorry and refer to the strict regulations. It’s Saturday evening in Doha, 24 hours before the soccer World Cup kicks off. But the mood in the capital is already so exuberant that it’s as if the 22nd global title fights in Qatar have already kicked off.

Tens of thousands of fans cavort at the official party area of ​​the world association Fifa, either cheering the DJs on the oversized stage or the opening of the beer stand from the World Cup sponsor. The cold drink from the can costs 50 riyals, the equivalent of 13.30 euros. But the horrendous price hardly deters anyone who is thirsty for beer on this mild winter evening, when it’s still 26 degrees, from buying it. After a few hours, the Fanfest will be closed due to overcrowding.

The next day there is something like desert sand haze over Doha. Oddly enough, the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador will take place at Al Bayt Stadium, the most distant arena of this World Cup from the capital. The fact that the host’s team is involved is only visible at second glance on the huge advertising banners on the sky-high hotels in the Corniche district: Manuel Neuer, the German captain can be seen there, Gareth Bale, star of the Welshmen, and (a bit unlucky for the hotel operator) the injured Senegalese Sadio Mané. After all, at an entrance to the newly built gigantic metro station: a photo of Akram Afif, 26-year-old left winger in Qatar’s selection and something like the small figurehead of the World Cup debutant.

Fans in jerseys with the number 11 of the star on the back then run around in front of the stadium, flags in the national colors are distributed for free, the football culture in the country is not particularly developed. Inside, almost all the seats in the 60,000-seat arena are occupied two hours before the start of the game. Maybe something like football fever.

However, all the fan chants, which mainly come from the Ecuadorian corner, are drowned out by a somewhat over-motivated warm-up on the stadium microphone controls. Even for experienced concert goers of extremely loud bands, this is a test for the ears that can hardly be passed. 90 minutes before the game it suddenly becomes quiet for a short time. Marcel Desailly, world champion with France in 1998, carries the World Cup trophy onto the lawn. Quite fitting, the former exceptional player ended his career in Qatar in 2006 with the Al-Gharafa club. Apparently the fans haven’t forgotten that and are giving him a warm welcome.

There was equally warm applause when Gianni Infantino entered the stadium with members of the ruling family one day after his bizarre performance in Doha and the scene was played back on the large video cube. The opening ceremony then begins, with two highlights in store: a conversation between Hollywood star Morgan Freeman and para-athlete Ghanim Al-Muftah, and the appearance of Jung Kook, a member of K-pop icons BTS, who, together with Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi performing the new song of the title fights, “Dreamers”.

People in oversized mascot outfits from the previous 21 finals, including Tip