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The Qatari players were disappointed after the game. © Tom Weller/dpa

Qatar opens the controversial World Cup with a big show. The host has some catching up to do on the pitch. The first three championship points go to Ecuador.

Al-Khour – Disappointed, the defeated Qatari quickly disappeared in the direction of the dressing room – there was almost no one left in the stands to offer consolation. After a glittering light show at the opening ceremony, the highly controversial host suffered a sobering defeat right at the start of the 2022 World Cup.

Most of the spectators in the Al-Bait Stadium north of Doha didn’t even wait for the final whistle in the 0:2 (0:2) against Ecuador and left early. Before the eyes of Qatar’s head of state Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Ecuador’s World Cup record scorer Enner Valencia (16th penalty kick and 31st minute) ensured the South Americans’ well-deserved victory in Group A. Qatar is the first host in World Cup history to lost an opening game. “We hoped that we could present ourselves better. But the level was too high,” said Qatar defender Homam Ahmed.

Huge crowds at Fanfest in Doha

According to official figures, the 67,372 spectators in the arena north of Doha, which is shaped like a desert tent, felt the World Cup mood only at the beginning. A group of fans in flashy red “Qatar” shirts didn’t let the goals conceded stop them from orchestrating their chants. From the second half, the gaps in the ranks became bigger and bigger. After the end of the game, only the fans from Ecuador applauded.

Thousands of people watched the emirate’s first World Cup game in the capital. A Fanfest, one of the few places where alcohol was allowed to be sold, had to be temporarily closed due to overcrowding.

The multi-part, half-hour opening ceremony before kick-off was intended to bring together tradition and modernity in Qatar. The host, who was criticized for the human rights situation, among other things, also wanted to put the topic of inclusion in the foreground. Hollywood star Morgan Freeman also got a big appearance. “The day we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived,” said Al Thani, the head of state. FIFA President Gianni Infantino appeared to be happy that the ball was finally rolling at his verbal starting signal: “Let the show begin!”

Video referee withdraws Ecuador hit

The jubilation about the start had hardly died down when the outsider conceded the first goal in the 3rd minute. However, the video referee saved Qatar from being behind by lightning because the Ecuadorian Michael Estrada had been flagged for offside with his right foot before Valencia’s header.

opening win
Ecuador easily defeated Qatar 2-0. © Robert Michael/dpa

The goal, which was withdrawn by Italian referee Daniele Orsato, nevertheless had an impact on the internationally inexperienced Qataris – especially Saad Al-Sheeb. The goalkeeper was a constant source of uncertainty in the already unstable defense of the 2019 Asian champions and was responsible for the penalty kick before the 0-1 with a foul on goal scorer Valencia.

FIFA and Qatar had brought the game up a day so that the hosts could present themselves to the world public in a classic opening game. However, the World Cup debutant failed to prove that he could keep up on the world football stage. The team, which the Spanish coach Felix Sanchez has been preparing for this tournament for many years, and which consists exclusively of professionals from the domestic league, acted helplessly at times. There was also little to see of the supposed star of the team, former Spain legionnaire Akram Afif. Sanchez followed the performance, which had been weak for a long time, mostly in consternation with his arms crossed on the sidelines.

Valencia now Ecuador’s sole World Cup record goalscorer

The Ecuadorians were not only more playful on the ground and stronger in tackles, they also mostly emerged victorious from aerial duels – like the second goal by the conspicuous Valencia. The Fenerbahce Istanbul pro has now become his country’s all-time record goalscorer at the World Cup with five goals. In central defence, Piero Hincapie from Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen had virtually no problems repelling the home side’s transparent attacks. In first-half injury time, however, the South Americans’ back line was unsorted when Almoez Ali, who was completely free, headed in Qatar’s first chance.

Qatar - Ecuador
Double goalscorer Enner Valencia gave Ecuador the lead with a penalty. © Tom Weller/dpa

Even after the change of sides, the Qatari could think of little in the game, apart from the artful shot by substitute Mohammed Muntari (86th), although they now had more possession of the ball. Ecuador withdrew further and largely limited themselves to counterattacks. In the 76th minute, the battered double goalscorer Valencia had to be limped off and replaced. Sitting on the bench, he cooled his right knee afterwards. dpa

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