Qatar became the first-ever host nation to lose a FIFA World Cup (WC) opener, as they were convincingly outplayed on their way to a 2-0 defeat against Ecuador.
While questions regarding Qatar’s suitability to host the WC will endure, Félix Sánchez’s men entered the tournament’s opener aiming to at least prove that they can compete on the pitch. It looked like they’d got off to the worst possible start as Saad Al Sheeb’s shaky attempt at dealing with a free-kick resulted in Enner Valencia heading home Félix Torres’ volley just three minutes in, but the Maroon were saved by a close offside call.
More Al Sheeb indecision on the quarter-hour mark saw the goalkeeper clumsily foul Valencia. There was no bailing him out this time, as the captain calmly passed his penalty into the bottom corner, becoming Ecuador’s top goalscorer in WCs. La Tri continued to completely dominate the struggling hosts, and Valencia doubled their lead in the 31st minute with a superb header from Ángelo Preciado’s pinpoint cross. In a fleeting moment of hope, Hasan Al-Haydos’ cross gave Almoez Ali Qatar’s only clear chance of the half moments before the break, although the frontman couldn’t hit the target with his tame header.
Even though Qatar enjoyed a bit more possession at times in the second period, they never looked like matching the South Americans with Romario Ibarra being masterfully slipped through before hitting an effort that was easily saved. Pedro Miguel showed some much-needed Qatari conviction when he outjumped Pervis Estupiñán to meet Abdelkarim Hassan’s cross, although his header eventually went wide. With a quarter-hour remaining, Akram Afif hitan ambitious effort harmlessly over the crossbar moments before Valencia limped off due to an injury sustained towards the end of the first half.
Ecuador had done the hard work in the opening 45 minutes and cruised to top spot ahead of Senegal’s meeting with the Netherlands, after scoring more than one goal for the first time in 12 matches. Meanwhile, Mohammed Muntari came close to a late Qatar goal but the Maroon face a tough task if they are to avoid joining South Africa, who are currently the only WC hosts not to qualify for the knockout stages.
Man of the Match: Enner Valencia (Ecuador)