World Cup dismay for Qatar as Ecuador win opening game

AL KHOR, Qatar – The many empty seats in the second half summed up the Qatari soccer team’s disappointing start to their first-ever World Cup.

The night began with more than 67,000 mostly Qatari fans filling the cavernous Al Bayt Stadium and attending an opening ceremony that presented the tiny Arab emirate to a global audience, 12 years after it won the right to host football’s biggest event to align

It ended with Qatar’s overwhelmed team stumbling off, securing their unwanted place in footballing history and many of their dismayed fans long gone.

The controversial tournament opened on Sunday when the 2019 Asian Cup champions were overwhelmed with a 2-0 defeat by Ecuador, ensuring a host team lost their opening game for the first time at a World Cup.

“I would say we felt bad (for our fans),” said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez. “I hope they will be prouder in the next game.”

Ecuador captain Enner Valencia scored both of his side’s goals in the first half of a one-sided game that became a damage control exercise for Qatar on one of the biggest nights in the country’s history.

The game took place after a colorful 30-minute opening ceremony hosted by Oscar winner Morgan Freeman and attended by powerful dignitaries such as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who touted inclusiveness and humanity’s life “under a tent”. .

For many, that would be because this World Cup is being hosted by an emirate where homosexual acts are illegal, a country that has been heavily criticized for the way migrant workers have been treated in building stadiums and tournament infrastructure since Qatar won the scandalous vote in 2010 Has .

Years of scrutiny would never end just because play on the field was finally added to the narrative of a tournament beset by human rights controversies, but a host victory would at least have put Qatar in a positive light football-wise.

Instead, Qatar’s players, fresh from a seven-month joint pre-tournament training camp under Sanchez, froze in front of an expectant crowd and a disciplined Ecuadorian team that could pose a threat to higher-profile opponents in the coming weeks.

“This is just the beginning of the World Cup,” said 33-year-old Valencia, who has scored Ecuador’s last five goals at the World Cup, three of them in 2014. “We have to keep dreaming.”

In what is perhaps one of the worst performances by a host country at the opening of a tournament, Qatar had five shots in play and none of them hit the target. The team only had two touches in the opponent’s penalty area.

To put it simply, Ecuador were just too good for a team that only plays at the World Cup because they are the hosts.

“I wouldn’t say we were naive,” Sanchez said. “I would say it was about nervousness … maybe we had too many doubts.”

Valencia thought he had scored in the third minute when he headed in from close range following an acrobatic cross from Felix Torres. After about two minutes of video review, the Ecuadorian celebrations were cut short when the goal was ruled out for a narrow offside.

However, Ecuador took the lead in the 16th minute when Valencia, running for a through ball, were brought down by Saad Alsheeb after rounding the keeper booked for the challenge. Valencia was nonchalant as he trotted up and converted the penalty into the bottom corner.

The 33-year-old forward then added his second in the 33rd by heading in a right cross from Angelo Preciado.

With Qatar’s passes often going astray and their defensive weaknesses repeatedly exposed, Ecuador had no problem maintaining their lead while Sanchez stood helpless in his technical area and the home fans fell silent.

Many did not return in the second half. And heading into the final quarter of the game, thousands of seats were empty.

It was a big contrast to a few hours earlier.

In a party-like atmosphere, camels and Arabian horses lined the entrance to the stadium, a Bedouin tent-inspired venue in the more remote outskirts of the rural town of Al Khor north of Doha.