After what has seemed an eternity, the 2022 World Cup is under way and to be fair to the Qataris they put on a spectacular opening ceremony, which included a huge firework display, pop stars, local celebrities, several camels and an Oscar-winning actor.
Sadly for the hosts, when the action started on the pitch they came up short, falling to a defeat at the hands of an impressive Ecuador outfit, at the equally impressive Al-Bayt Stadium, just outside the capital Doha.
Hollywood gets in on the act
After all the controversy that has dominated the build up to the competition, it was good to get proceedings finally under way and no expense had been spared for the 30-minute opening show. To narrate the ceremony Morgan Freeman, of Shawshank Redemption and Se7en fame (amongst many others), had flown in and delivered the same message that the officials are trying to get across, and that was that everyone is welcome.
Fireworks before the main event
There were performances from South Korean pop star Jung Kook and Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi, before Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani gave the opening speech in Arabic; saying: “People of different races, nationalities, creeds and orientations will gather here in Qatar and around screens on all continents to share the same exciting moments.”
Local YouTuber Ghanim Al-Muftah joined Freeman on stage to great cheers, before some extraordinary dance routines which featured giant walking kits of the 32 teams competing in the tournament dazzled the crowd, followed by the appearance of some of the mascots of previous World Cups, alongside La’eeb, the 2022 mascot, not forgetting regular appearances from camels, who will no doubt be quite visual throughout the tournament.
More Pyrotechnics finished the introduction in a thrilling manner, before everyone settled down to watch the action, including the Saudi Arabian crown prince and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations secretary general.
Early let off only a temporary reprieve
Unfortunately, that is when things started to turn a little sour for the hosts, in a game which in all honesty, was probably their best hope of picking up any points, as their next two are against the Netherlands and Senegal, both very strong footballing nations.
From the off Ecuador were much the brighter and had the ball in the net after just three minutes, but VAR chalked it off after a delay of several minutes, even though replays and bizarrely the subsequent lines offered by the video referee, appeared to prove the exact opposite; which is the madness of VAR.
Classy striker at the double
However, that did not deter the South Americans as they continued to dominate, and deservedly took the lead from the penalty spot after Qatar’s goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb upended captain Enner Valencia, who was indeed the unlucky player to have his goal ruled out. He dusted himself down and calmly side-footed his team ahead.
A second goal followed just after the half hour mark with a terrific header, again from Valencia. The experienced former Everton and West Ham striker, now plying his trade in Turkey for Fenerbahçe, ghosted in behind his marker to meet a right wing cross brilliantly, and guide a neat header into the bottom corner of the net.
Ecuador ease off the gas for more testing fixtures ahead
After going through the entire half without even entering the Ecuador penalty area, the home nation missed a golden opportunity to get back into the game when Almoez Alim unmarked, and just six yards out, headed wide of a gaping goal. That was their opportunity and he blew it, they were not to get another sniff.
In the second half Ecuador seemed to treat the game more like a training exercise and professionally saw the game out. The Qataris were completely outclassed, as the occasion seemed to be too much for them, with several players overawed by the enormity of it all.
No way back for hosts
There was a huge gulf in class and it very much had a feel of men against boys. It was sad to see, especially as their preparation had seen the tiny state’s players spend the last five months together in a training camp.
There doesn’t seem any way back for them now and an early exit seems guaranteed. Many of their supporters seemed to agree as the closing stages were played out in front of lots of empty seats, with fans streaming out as the occasion fell flat.
For everyone else, the excitement remains, as they prepare for their own opening games over the next few days.