After tens of billions of dollars spent on infrastructure, and scepticism over this tiny gas-rich nation’s suitability as a sporting host, a World Cup has finally been handed out in Qatar.
It was Liverpool lifting FIFA’s lesser-regarded Club World Cup trophy on Saturday night. In three years’ time, the biggest prize in soccer will be handed out in a stadium yet to be completed.
The Club World Cup, which ended on Saturday with Roberto Firmino sealing a 1-0 victory for Liverpool over Flamengo in extra time, has been the first major test of Qatar’s international footballing readiness.
With a 45,000-strong crowd packed into Khalifa Stadium, Qatar has shown it can fill a venue with sports fans — unlike at the IAAF World Championships earlier this year.
“Everybody was, for different reasons, on the edge pretty much, but I saw so many sensationally good performances and I’m really happy of course for our supporters,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said.
“The atmosphere in the stadium was great.”
But it is a stadium touched by the welfare concerns that have dogged Qatar’s building work since being awarded the Fifa World Cup in 2010. A British worker plunged to his death during the construction phase in conditions later deemed to be dangerous.
This was a Club World Cup trip also tinged in tragedy for the losing finalists from Brazil. When fire engulfed a dormitory at Flamengo’s academy in Brazil in February, 10 players — all between 14 and 16 years old — died.
“It was a very sad moment in Flamengo’s history and, I believe, in Brazilian football as well,” midfielder Everton Ribeiro said in Doha. “Lives were lost, dreams were lost.”
Flamengo was ordered by a Rio de Janeiro judge earlier this month to pay the equivalent of $2,500 a month to the families of 10 victims and three injured players. Flamengo, which appealed the decision, is already paying families about $1,200 a month.
“If the situation is settled with the families, as soon as possible, including the support that Flamengo is already giving, it will be better for everybody,” Ribeiro said.
Flamengo’s grief was followed by success not achieved by a Brazilian side since Pele’s Santos in 1963.
The Brazilian championship was won in November, 24 hours after clinching a first Copa Libertadores title since 1981 in a continental triumph which earned a reunion with Liverpool.
When the European champions and South American champions met in a single-game version of the Club World Cup 38 years ago, Flamengo beat Liverpool 3-0.
Since the 1981 Intercontinental Cup, football has tilted in Europe’s favour over South America, but the very staging of this seven-team Club World Cup in the Persian Gulf shows where so much of the wealth now comes from in the sport.
And it was a Brazilian player prized away from his homeland to Europe as a 19-year-old, initially by Hoffenheim in Germany, who settled this final for Liverpool in the 99th minute.
Firmino was still inside his own half when captain Jordan Henderson launched the defence-splitting pass that set Liverpool on the path to glory. As Firmino raced through Flamengo territory unchallenged, Sadio Mané held up the ball received from Henderson.
When Firmino reached the penalty area, Mané squared to the Brazilian, who took three touches to control the ball, wrong-footing defender Rodrigo Caio before knocking it into the net.
Firmino also struck in the semi-final victory over Monterrey on Wednesday, giving him two goals in as many games in the Khalifa Stadium, having only netted once in the previous 16 games for Liverpool in all competitions.
“I couldn’t be more happy for him that he could score that goal because ... (of) what this competition means to Brazil, to South American people,” Klopp said.
After netting the World Cup winner, Firmino raced away in celebration, ripping off his jersey and leaping into the air.
Firmino and his team-mates will have to wait some time to attach Fifa’s gold champions badge to their jerseys.
Liverpool anticipate it will only be allowed to be worn in the Champions League, which resumes in February, rather than weekly in the Premier League.
They may just have to settle for lifting the Premier League trophy for the first time in May.
As Liverpool added the world title to their sixth European Cup collected in June, back in England the pursuit of the Premier League was helped by Leicester losing to Manchester City.
A domestic title drought stretching back to 1990 for the 18-time English champions is well-placed to end, with Liverpool holding a 10-point lead over Leicester ahead of Thursday’s game against their second-place rival.
And defender Joe Gomez hopes the weekend success will be another stepping stone towards ending that 30-year famine.
“Winning this only adds to our positivity,” he said. “We come away from here as champions of the world. Why can’t we use that as a positive?
But we know we can’t dwell on anything. We’re not even halfway through the season yet, so it’s a case of heads down, and carry on the focus.
For all the criticism the club received for travelling to Qatar with a full-strength squad, leaving behind a youth team to get knocked out of the Carabao Cup quarter-finals, the players were in no doubt it was the right decision.
Many have spoken of the drive which exists to win more trophies, so adding another piece of silverware more than justifies the trip.
“It’s special. We knew coming into it that we hadn’t won it as a club before and that was something we wanted to achieve,” Gomez added.
“Credit to all the players, staff and the supporters. I’m buzzing that we were able to take this opportunity.
“You don’t get here without winning one of the biggest trophies in the world.
“The consequence of that is you come here and play top teams. We played two good teams this week and you can’t underestimate that.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room just shows you how positive this competition can be. It’s another trophy, and that’s what we’re here for.”