Marhaba! Despite the torrential rain, Doha handed out a warm welcome to athletes from 45 countries and regions as the 15th Asian Games opened in a dazzling display of song, dance and pyrotechnics at the futuristic Khalifa Stadium last night. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Kalifa Al-Thani, were among a host of VIPs who watched a spectacular opening ceremony for the most ambitious Asian Games with more than 10,000 athletes taking part in a record 39 sports. 'Together we will make history with what is the largest Asian Games, which ultimately will be the games of your life,' said Abdulla Khalid Al Qahtani, director general of the Doha Asian Games Organising Committee. Hong Kong marksman and flag-bearer Wong Fai led the 150-strong Hong Kong delegation into the stadium during the march-past of the teams. North Korea and South Korea marched under a blue and white 'unification flag' - the first sign of reconciliation since the communist North allegedly staged a nuclear test in October that raised tensions in the divided peninsula. They will, however, compete as separate teams. For the first time in 20 years, athletes from Iraq appeared at the games. An estimated three billion television viewers around the world, and a capacity-50,000 spectators in the stands, watched a spellbinding show that featured everything from a cavalry of 64 desert horsemen on Arabian thoroughbreds go through daredevil drills to an emotive portrayal of the story of Qatar - from its nomadic Bedouin and pearl-diving roots to a modern city. Hong Kong Cantopop star Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, Bollywood singer Sunidhi Chauhan, Spanish tenor Jose Carreras and Lebanese artist Magida El Roumi were among the performers. 'This ceremony was far more ambitious and greater in scale and scope than the Sydney ceremony,' said David Atkins, the Australian director for the ceremony who also orchestrated the opening ceremony at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. 'With a cast of 7,000 local people, this is the biggest ceremony Asia has ever seen,' said Sharif Omar Hashisho, the director of ceremonies and cultural events for the games. After years of planning and US$2.8 billion in investment, the tiny Gulf state of just 800,000 people - only a quarter of whom are nationals - now has plans to host the 2016 Olympic Games. And last night, Doha proved that despite being small, they can put on a huge party.