Qatar became the first ever host nation to lose their opening game of a World Cup in the tournament’s 92 year history as Enner Valencia’s brace condemned them to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ecuador.
Following several months of controversy in the build up to the tournament based on an array of topics from human rights, cultural and political issues to corruption controversies, the focus turned to the football as Qatar were comprehensively beaten by Ecuador in the tournament’s curtain raiser which also happened to be Qatar’s first ever World Cup match.Embed from Getty Images
Valencia thought he had given La Tri the dream start with just three minutes on the clock when he nodded home Félix Torres’ acrobatic cross from close range however the goal was controversially ruled out for offside following a lengthy VAR check.
But the former West Ham and Everton striker wasn’t going to be denied a second time on 16 minutes when he cooly dispatched a spot kick to give Gustavo Alfaro’s side a 1-0 lead after Saad Al Sheeb clumsily caught the Ecuador captain in the penalty area.Embed from Getty Images
Ecuador came close to doubling their lead on 20 minutes when Brighton left back Pervis Estupinán floated a teasing cross into the box, however Michael Estrada jumped too early and headed way over the bar from close range before clattering into Al Sheeb in a painful looking collision.
Valencia then bagged his and his sides second of the game just after the 30 minute mark to put Ecuador 2-0 in front. The 33 year old showed excellent athleticism to arrow a perfectly placed header into the bottom corner following a wicked delivery by Angelo Preciado from the right hand side.
Almoez Ali was presented with a golden opportunity to pull one back for the home side on the stroke of half time, however he was unable to get a proper connection on Hassan Al Haidos’ inch perfect cross. Qatar’s number 19 sliced his header wide of the post, unopposed, from just six yards out.
The first half was very much the Enner Valencia show. Ecuador’s number 13 scored a brace, had a goal disallowed and picked up a knee injury which threatened to force him off but he was able to continue on until the second half. However, he did eventually have to be replaced through injury in the 77th minute although he’s hopeful it’s not too serious. Valencia told reporters after the game: “The doctors will assess me, but I hope to play in the second game against Holland.”
It was a largely uneventful second half at the Al Bayt Stadium – Ecuador didn’t really have to get out of second gear as they comfortably saw off a toothless Qatar side in front of over 67,000.
Al Sheeb denied Romario Ibarra with a good save on 55 minutes after the Ecuador winger cut inside onto his favoured right foot before unleashing an effort on goal from just outside the box.
The hosts’ biggest chance of the second half saw substitute Mohammed Muntari fire a first time strike on the half volley just over the bar, but it just wasn’t Qatar’s day.
Ecuador have now managed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last seven matches in all competitions dating back to March when they drew 1-1 with Argentina.
After a colourful opening ceremony which featured appearances from Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman and South Korean popstar Jung Kook, it was Enner Valencia who ultimately stole the show. The Fenerbahce forward scored all of Ecuador’s goals at their last World Cup in 2014 and has now scored 5 out of Ecuador’s 12 World Cup goals in their history. Furthermore, Valencia has now become the first ever player to score five consecutive World Cup goals for a South American nation.
“I dreamt so many times about winning this opening match. This was a dream that I managed to score and help my team get the three points,” Valencia told reporters.
“We managed to score a couple of quick goals which helped us to get control of the game and win the three points … We think we can go very far and perform well.”
Qatar coach Félix Sánchez provided an honest assessment of his sides performance after the game.
Obviously this was not what we were hoping for,” he said.
“There is no excuse, I want to congratulate our opponents Ecuador. There is a lot of room for improvement.
“We did not play at our best level. Maybe the responsibility and the nerves got the better of us. We just have to let go and forget about it and be more competitive. We can do it.”Embed from Getty Images
Ecuador will now be looking to build on this victory as they go toe to toe with group favourites Netherlands on Friday. The South Americans will have ambitions to improve on their current best World Cup campaign when they reached the round of 16 in 2006.
Meanwhile Qatar will have to quickly lift their heads up and try to get a result against Senegal who will be without their main man Sadio Mané after the Bayern Munich man was ruled out of the tournament through injury having initially been selected in Senegal’s 26 man squad.