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Qatar Falls to Ecuador, Becomes First World Cup Host Nation to Lose Opening Match

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The moment Qatar had been waiting nearly 12 years for arrived—and it didn’t go at all how the country and its national team had envisioned.

The 2022 World Cup host nation flopped in its first match on soccer’s grandest stage, falling to Ecuador 2–0 in the opening game of the competition. An Enner Valencia double in the first half was all it took to make Qatar the first host team to lose the opening match of its World Cup, but truthfully the match was more lopsided than the score reflected.

The festivities at the bedouin tent-inspired Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor kicked off with a spirited opening ceremony, featuring actor Morgan Freeman, BTS star Jung Kook, mascots of past World Cups and a whole lot of fireworks.

And it was Qatar aiming for fireworks off the opening whistle. Before the stadium countdown to first kick could even be completed, the host nation started the match, trying to catch Ecuador napping with an early, direct long ball into La Tri’s box, but Ecuador cleared and avoided a worst-possible start.

Instead it was the hosts who endured the worst-imaginable start, even after a fortuitous let-off in the third minute. After an Ecuador free kick, Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb raced off his line, but Pervis Estupiñán was able to acrobatically volley the ball across goal, where veteran forward Enner Valencia was there to head into the vacated goal. While it seemed Ecuador had taken the lead, VAR review, using the new semi-automated offside technology, took it off the board, with Michael Estrada’s foot ruled to have been in an offside position in the build-up, nullifying the goal and keeping it 0-0.

Valencia got his goal for Ecuador 10 minutes after the confusion subsided, though. Played through behind the Qatari defense, Valencia rounded Al Sheeb, who could only foul the striker in the box. Valencia placed his penalty kick low and to the right while Al Sheeb went the other way, indeed giving Ecuador the 1–0 lead.

Valencia was at it again in the 31st minute, heading in his second of the game. Ecuador had completely dominated the run of play, and after another Qatari turnover, it was Valencia who was the beneficiary, deftly heading in Ángelo Preciado’s cross to the center of the box to make it 2–0 to the deserving leaders. The goals were Valencia’s fourth and fifth goals all-time at World Cups, making him his nation’s leading scorer in the competition, snapping a tie with Agustín Delgado. He has also scored Ecuador’s last five goals on the World Cup stage.

It wasn’t all great for Valencia, though, as he was forced to limp off to the sideline with an apparent leg injury in the 44th minute. But after receiving treatment, he jogged back on the field before halftime, a reprieve and relief for the South American nation.

Qatar came close to seizing some momentum just before halftime. On its first real foray into the final third, Qatar had Hassan Al-Haydos get free down the right and serve in a cross for an unmarked Almoez Ali, but the veteran striker whiffed on the header, instead glancing it wide of the mark.

Al Sheeb was called into action 10 minutes into the second half for his first save of the game, with Romario Ibarra stinging the goalkeeper’s palms with a right-footed strike from 18 yards out.

Qatar then had a chance arise out of seemingly nowhere in the 61st minute, with right back Pedro Miguel (who also goes by Ró-Ró), flashing into the center to meet a hopeful cross toward the top of the box. He won the header, but it was directed wide of the mark.

Akram Afif tried his chances from long range in the 75th minute, desperately trying to bring his side back into the match. His effort sailed well high of the bar, though, ending what had been a rare, promising sequence for the hosts.

As for the party-crasher, its star did wind up coming off with a leg knock moments after Afif’s miss. Valencia went back down to ground, grimacing as he held his right knee, and he came off for LAFC’s José Cifuentes, with the result feeling comfortably in hand.

Muhammad Muntari nearly made it a more nervy ending, with the forward audaciously volleying from 18 yards and almost dipping his strike over Ecuador goalkeeper Hernán Galíndez and under the crossbar, only to have it go just over the bar.

The two sides are grouped with Senegal and the Netherlands, who play their Group A opener on Monday. That was originally slated to be the opening match of the competition until FIFA moved Qatar-Ecuador a day earlier, to give the host the spotlight. Unfortunately for Qatar, it wasn’t the kind of attention it wanted to receive, and now it’s left with two difficult matches in which it’ll look to avoid becoming just the second host nation (South Africa, 2010) to fail to make it out of the opening phase. 

Here were the lineups for both sides:

Full World Cup squads:


GOALKEEPERS: Saad Al Sheeb (Al Sadd), Meshaal Barshim (Al Sadd), Youssef Hassan (Al-Gharafa)

DEFENDERS: Homam Ahmed (Al-Gharafa), Bassam Al-Rawi (Al-Duhail), Jassem Gaber (Al-Arabi), Abdelkarim Hassan (Al-Sadd), Musab Kheder (Al-Sadd), Boualem Khoukhi (Al-Sadd), Pedro Miguel (Al-Sadd), Ismaeel Mohammad (Al-Duhail), Tarek Salman (Al-Sadd)

MIDFIELDERS: Salem Al-Hajri (Al Sadd), Ali Assadalla (Al Sadd), Karim Boudiaf (Al-Duhail), Abdulaziz Hatem (Al-Rayyan), Assim Madibo (Al-Duhail), Mostafa Tarek (Al Sadd), Mohammed Waad (Al Sadd)

FORWARDS: Akram Afif (Al Sadd), Nief Al-Hadhrami (Al-Rayyan), Hassan Al-Haydos (Al Sadd), Ahmed Alaaeldin (Al-Gharafa), Almoez Ali (Al-Duhail), Khalid Muneer (Al-Wakrah), Muhammad Muntari (Al-Duhail) 

COACH: Félix Sánchez


GOALKEEPERS: Alexander Domínguez (LDU Quito), Hernán Galíndez (Aucas), Moisés Ramirez (Independiente del Valle)

DEFENDERS: Robert Arboleda (São Paulo FC), Xavier Arreaga (Seattle Sounders), Pervis Estupiñán (Brighton), Piero Hincapié (Bayer Leverkusen), William Pacho (Antwerp), Diego Palacios (LAFC), Jackson Porozo (Troyes), Ángelo Preciado (Genk), Félix Torres (Santos Laguna)

MIDFIELDERS: Moisés Caicedo (Brighton), José Cifuentes (LAFC), Alan Franco (Talleres), Carlos Gruezo (Augsburg), Romario Ibarra (Pachuca), Ángel Mena (Leon), Jhegson Méndez (LAFC), Gonzalo Plata (Real Valladolid), Ayrton Preciado (Santos Laguna), Jeremy Sarmiento (Brighton)

FORWARDS: Michael Estrada (Cruz Azul), Djorkaeff Reasco (Newell’s Old Boys), Kevin Rodríguez (Imbabura), Enner Valencia (Fenerbahçe)

COACH: Gustavo Alfaro

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