Doha: Qatar inaugurated its first newly-built arena for the 2022 World Cup on Thursday when the packed Al Wakrah Stadium hosted the Amir Cup final. After a roughly 30-minute opening ceremony, Emir Tamim bin Hamad entered the stadium to cheering and clapping. The national anthem was played before the match between Al Sadd and Al Duhail began.
The stadium erupted in cheers shortly after when Akram Afifi scored the first goal for Al Sadd around six minutes into the game. But Al Duhail managed to snatch the title with four goals afterwards.
The Al Wakrah Stadium, south of the capital Doha, is designed in the shape of a traditional sailing boat from the region and has a capacity of around 40,000.
“It makes us proud to see a stadium like this in Qatar, it actually shows that Qatar is moving on. Al Wakra is one of the most beautiful stadiums,” Youssef, a 20-year-old Qatari student attending the game, told dpa.
It is the second venue to be completed for the World Cup following the renovation of the Khalifa International Stadium two years ago.
“I am very impressed with what I have seen so far,” former Dutch footballer Ronaldus De Boer said before the game. “It is a beautiful stadium… the fans are close to the pitch, everybody has a great sight on the pitch so they can be involved during the game, this is how it should be.” “There is a lot of work to be done of course, but this is another step towards the World Cup,” he told reporters. “I am very confident they will be ready on time.”
Tamim tweeted late on Thursday that he will rename the venue Al Janoub Stadium, which translates into the South Stadium.
Thani al Zarraa, project manager at Al Wakra Stadium, said the decision took him by surprise, adding that the venue is the most southern among the stadiums prepared for the World Cup.
Mais Rabie, 26, initially missed out on a ticket because the event was sold out, but one of her friends had an extra ticket.
“I was lucky to get a last minute ticket. The opening was amazing, I am not a big fan of football but it is nice to be here in the stadium,” said Rabie, who was wearing a long black dress and veil.
All eight stadiums to be used in the tournament will have air-conditioning to regulate the temperature on the pitch and in the stands, a necessity despite the World Cup being moved to the cooler months of November and December.
However, Qatar has been criticised by humans rights groups over the conditions for workers involved in building projects related to the competition.
Gianni Infantino, president of world governing body Fifa, remains hopeful of increasing the size of the event from 32 teams to 48.
This would require another country to step in as co-hosts with Kuwait and Oman considered possibilities to supply up to four match venues.