The opening match of World Cup 2022 ended in disappointment for Qatar. A first-half brace from striker Enner Valencia was enough for Ecuador to comfortably see off World Cup 2022 hosts.
The match followed an opening ceremony which included some odd scenes with actor Morgan Freeman and a performance by a K-Pop singer.
With the pre-match fluff out of the way, the real action got underway. The hosts began in jittery fashion when Ecuador had a goal ruled out after just three minutes. Enner Valencia was, a little controversially, judged to have been offside, after the Qatari keeper, Al Sheeb nervously flapped at the ball twice in quick succession.
The early action was a sign of things to come as Valencia and Al Sheeb were to play the role of lead protagonists.
Twelve minutes later and Valencia was the centre of attention once again as he sprinted into the penalty area, nicking the ball past Al Sheeb and tumbling under slight contact from the keeper. Valencia dusted himself down and calmly sent Al Sheeb the wrong way from the resulting spot-kick.
Much had been made beforehand about Qatar’s six months of training together in the run-up to the tournament, in contrast to most countries players having club duties and consequently only having less than a week together.
However, additional time for training and preparation pale into insignificance in the face of a gulf in class. The Qataris were struggling to get the ball out of their own half for much of the 90 minutes, as Ecuador dictated the play in a confident fashion.
The Ecuadorian first-half pressure paid off with a second goal in the 31st minute. An out-swinging cross from the right by Preciado was met in clinical fashion by the 33-year-old Valencia who found the bottom corner to make it 2-0.
Qatar were under the cosh throughout the second half and the South Americans could have had few more but for a lack of composure.
However, Ecuador switched off at the back with three minutes to go and Mohammed Muntari ran onto a long ball and hit a sweet dipping strike on the bounce just over the bar. The chance was easily the closest Qatar had come to scoring.
With Sunday’s 2-0 defeat Qatar became the first-ever World Cup host nation to lose their opening match. On this showing, with Netherlands and African champions Senegal to come, it will be miraculous if they gain any points and do not exit their own tournament with their tail between their legs.
As for Ecuador, they looked calm and composed on the ball and offered a real threat in wide positions from their full backs Preciado and Estupiñán, whilst the veteran Valencia’s predatory instincts still looked razor sharp. However, it is difficult to draw many conclusions from the match given the gap in quality between themselves and their opposition.
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