Enner Valencia scored twice as Ecuador easily defeated the hosts 2-0 in the opening game of the World Cup on Sunday, making Qatar the first home team to lose their first game.
Despite having the support of the majority of spectators at the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium, Asian champions Qatar were unable to deliver a memorable performance after the opulent opening ceremony.
Ecuador thought they had gotten off to a great start when Valencia headed in to hush the home crowd, but VAR disallowed the goal for offside in the build-up.
Valencia did succeed in breaking the tie in the 16th minute when a penalty was awarded to Ecuador after the skipper was tripped by Qatari goalkeeper Al Sheeb while through on goal.
The ex-West Ham striker calmly scored his 36th goal for his country by coolly sending Al Sheeb the wrong way from the penalty spot and swatting the ball into the bottom corner.
Qatar’s closest chance to score came just on the stroke of halftime when Almoez Ali steered a free header wide from just eight yards out.
Even though the hosts made a slight improvement in the second half, they still fell far short of expectations.
The South American side sealed the victory as they doubled their lead shortly after the hour mark when right-back Angelo Preciado sent in a cross following a strong run by Moises Caicedo, with Valencia meeting it with a powerful header.
Qatari fans were seen trooping out of the stadium well in advance of the game’s conclusion. The stadium was little over half filled when the official attendance of 67,372 was announced over the tannoy.
A short-lived Opening ceremony for Qatari fans
The fervor surrounding the official opening ceremony – featuring Morgan Freeman and BTS star Jung Kook – just hours earlier, becomes only a distant memory to Qatari fans.
The grand event was graced by performers, prominent figures, and world leaders from around the globe.
Attendees included prominent figures like Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a close ally of Qatar.
The presidents of Egypt and Algeria, as well as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, were also present at the glitzy ceremony to officially kick off the first World Cup in the Middle East, along with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
What now for Qatar?
The fans had high expectations for Qatar to start off strong, but Ecuador’s performance brutally highlighted the shortcomings of the World Cup debutants.
Host nations had previously won 16 and drawn 6 of their opening matches in the 92-year history of the tournament.
Felix Sanchez’s side will apparently need a win against Senegal in their second Group A game on Friday in order to avoid the hurt of becoming the second host nation to be eliminated in the first round after South Africa in 2010.
The action continues on Monday
The 2022 World Cup will gather up steam after Sunday’s opening match with six nations playing on Monday.
At 4:00 pm (13:00 GMT), England will play Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium. England, which advanced to the semi-finals in 2018, will hope to start strong.
Senegal and the Netherlands will square off later on Monday starting at 7 p.m. (16:00 GMT) at Al Thumama Stadium, followed by the United States taking on Wales at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
A World Cup without the world’s best
France’s hopes of retaining the World cup trophy in Qatar saw a major setback as Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema was ruled out of the tournament on Saturday after sustaining an injury in training with the French national team.
Benzema became the first reigning Ballon d’Or winner since 1978 to miss the World Cup after pulling off the tournament this year in Qatar, according to ESPN data.
The last Ballon d’Or winner to miss the major event was Allan Simonsen of Denmark, who missed it because his country did qualify for the World Cup in 1978.
Benzema was France’s top scorer at the 2014 World Cup but he was not in France’s squad when they won the tournament in 2018. He was called up by France coach Deschamps for last year’s European Championship, where he was France’s top scorer.
However, even without Benzema, France still has a strong attack to face Australia in their opening Group D match on Tuesday.
When manager Didier Deschamps was asked on Sunday by French newspaper TeleFoot whether he would replace Benzema in his squad, he said “No”.
“This is a quality group,” he added. “In everything they do, both on and off the pitch, they are united. I have confidence in them.”
Olivier Giroud is most likely to start on Tuesday as the team’s center striker, flanked by Kylian Mbappe, a hero of the 2018 World Cup, and either Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona or the seasoned Antoine Griezmann.