Qatar became the first host nation to lose their opening match of a World Cup as Enner Valencia’s double topped off Ecuador’s assertive performance as they won 2-0.
With Qatar’s World Cup set to begin, all eyes were on the pitch for the first time after months of controversy that had plagued the tournament throughout the build-up. But for Qatar there was no let-up, as Ecuador comfortably beat them 2-0 and, in the process, making Qatar the first host nation to lose their opening game in the tournament’s 92-year history.
VAR intervened early on to deprive Ecuador of the perfect start as Captain Valencia’s header was ruled out for offside, a decision which has since been scrutinised for its apparent lack of clarity.
Just 12 minutes later Valencia did get his goal as he converted a penalty of his own making in the 16th minute. The ex-West Ham man doubled his tally in the 31st minute with an expertly dispatched header into the bottom left as he took his tally of World Cup goals to five.
Moments before half-time Qatar saw their first real chance go amiss when Almoez Ali found himself free in the box, but the striker failed to make enough contact with his header and the ball flew wide. This would turn out to be the only chance of note in the game as they were restricted to purely long-range efforts in the second half.
Ecuador took their foot off the gas in a second half which saw no real chances of note for either side as the South American team cruised to the top of Group A on the opening day.
This looked to be the perfect start for Ecuador as they are set to go up against stern competition in Senegal and the Netherlands in the fight to progress from the group, but an injury that saw Valencia subbed off in the second half looked to be a cause for concern.
The striker appeared to be targeted by the Qatar players as a series of robust challenges took their toll on Valencia who looked set to come off in the first half after overextending his knee. The striker did manage to play a further 30 minutes, but eventually the tackles became too much for Ecuador’s star-man who had to be taken off due to his previous injury.
However, manager Gustavo Alfaro said “Enner [Valencia] will play against the Netherlands, there is no doubt about that.”
Qatar’s start was much the opposite of Ecuador as they severely disappointed on the day, and none more so than goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb whose hesitancy put Qatar in trouble on multiple occasions. The keeper was saved by VAR for Valencia’s chalked off goal as his unconvincing punch and poor positioning culminated in a tap-in for the striker.
Al-Sheeb’s hesitancy was once again at fault in the penalty decision, as he was slow to challenge the onrushing Valencia and ended up bundling over the striker inside the box. Valencia followed by putting himself in the history books as he opened the scoring at the World Cup with the resulting penalty, the first time this has happened in history.
However, Qatar’s keeper and the rest of the team were able to somewhat redeem themselves in the second half as they shut out Ecuador in a strong defensive performance to prevent any further embarrassment.
This didn’t stop the Ecuador fans making the most of it though as they made heaps of noise throughout the second half, including mocking the banning of beer at the tournament, while the rest of the crowd seemed to slowly filter out of the 60,000-seat stadium.
The result means that Ecuador top the group as they prepare to face Netherlands while Qatar match up against Senegal, with both games taking place Friday November 25th. The winner of Group A will play the runner-up of Group B, containing England, Wales, Iran and USA. The runner-up of Group A will then consequently play the winner of Group B.
The common theme of this World Cup, controversies, continued after the game as the official attendance was stated to be 67,000. This has caused confusion amongst fans, pundits and journalists alike as the stadium capacity was announced as 60,000 prior to the tournament, and even this figure didn’t look to be reached with large portions of empty chairs being openly in view from start to finish of the spectacle.
Prior to the game a fantastic opening ceremony kicked off the event, headed by Morgan Freeman who was joined by Qatari Youtuber Ghanim Al-Muftah, who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome.
The pair shared a message “of hope, inclusivity, peace and unity for humanity” as well as saying that “everyone is welcome”, this being despite the controversies around the treatment of LGBT people in the country and the deaths of migrant workers.
A brilliant lightshow, as well as a series of dances and songs, was accompanied by appearances from BTS member Jung Kook and Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi. Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani then gave the opening speech in Arabic as the ceremony came to a close.
Throughout the ceremony, songs and dances from previous iterations of the World Cup were seen while previous mascots also appeared alongside the 2022 World Cup mascot La’eeb – Arabic for “super-skilled player”. But arguably the most striking of all the performances was when giant kits of all 32 countries taking part in the tournament walked across the pitch.
The performance ended with the aforementioned lightshow leaving the crowd cheering in anticipation for the beginning of Qatar 2022.