The opening game of the 2022 Qatar World Cup is set to take place under a cloud of controversy after allegations of match-fixing emerged.
Qatar is ranked 50th in the world, and pundits do not expect it to challenge for the top two positions in Group A, with the Netherlands heavily favoured to win the group and Ecuador and Senegal fighting for second place.
The host nation, Qatar, will start the tournament against Ecuador at 17:00 (GMT) at Al Bayt Stadium, following the opening ceremony
The lead-up to the tournament has been marred by various controversies, particularly the country’s treatment of migrant workers and intolerance towards homosexuality.
In this latest potential scandal, author and political affairs expert Amjad Taha alleges Qatar has bribed multiple Ecuadorian players to lose the opening match on purpose, using a total sum of $US7.4 million ($11.1 million).
Taha claims to have confirmed the scheme’s existence with “insiders” in both camps, and says it would involve a 1-0 scoreline, with the goal coming in the second half.
Taha tweeted: “Exclusive: Qatar bribed eight Ecuadorean players $7.4 million to lose the opener (1-0, ️2nd half). Five Qatari and Ecuador insiders confirmed this. We hope it’s false. We hope sharing this will affect the outcome. The world should oppose FIFA corruption.”
Speaking to the media ahead of the match, Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez denied the bribery allegation.
“There is a lot of misinformation,” Sanchez said when asked about it.
“The internet is a great tool, but it is also very dangerous. No one will be able to destabilise us with these statements. We are not affected at all.
“We are focused on bringing our A-game and will not take anything else into account.”
Qatar came under heavy fire from across the globe after being awarded the rights to host the World Cup back in 2010, with criticism of its human rights record and questionable use of migrant labour particularly widespread.
The weeks leading up to the tournament have brought fresh controversies as well. Days before the Cup, the host nation performed an abrupt backflip and banned the sale of alcoholic drinks at its eight venues.
The Muslim nation had promised organisers FIFA it would relax its strict laws to allow fans to drink beer at matches and inside fan zones.
But, while Budweiser – owned by Belgian beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) – has a massive $US112 million sponsorship deal with FIFA, Qatar decided to renege on its vow anyway.