In a stadium filled with raucous home support, Qatar – playing its first World Cup game ever – failed to draw inspiration from the fans or the richness of its precious past showcased during the opening act of Arabia’s magical realism.
The host nation tried hard against Ecuador, but the lack of big-game experience and the individual brilliance of Premier League discard Enner Valencia handed it a 2-0 loss – the first for a host on the opening day of the competition.
The 12-year weight of expectations proved too heavy a burden for these players, solely drawn from the less-competitive Qatar Super League, and goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb, with his nervous energy, did little to soothe his teammates’ battered psyche.
He was saved early on by yet another VAR decision after making a mess of stepping too far out in an attempt to clear a freekick in the third minute. Valencia’s header from four yards was ruled out for offside.
AS IT HAPPENED: Qatar vs Ecuador HIGHLIGHTS
The Ecuadorian, however, soon found the lead for his team, captialising on yet another Al-Sheeb mistake. The goalkeeper, moving late off his line, brought down Valencia and the skipper used his experience to wait for Al-Sheeb to commit to his dive before caressing the ball to the other side of the goal in the 16th minute.
Qatar found no way to claw its way back, and another goal followed just a minute after the half-hour mark. Brighton’s Moises Caicedo’s one-two with Angelo Preciado brought in a measured cross into the box and Valencia was there to stretch his neck muscles like a giraffe reaching for the higher branch and send in a downward header past a late-reacting Al-Sheeb.
Against the run of play, Almoez Ali – played in by a carving cross from Hassan Al-Haydos from the right – missed the chance to bring Qatar back into the game with the last touch of the first half.
With Ecuador showing no urgency to add to its tally, the second half was a more subdued affair with Qatar coach Felix Sanchez pushing his fullbacks up to counter the surging runs of the opposition wingbacks. Mohammed Muntari, running and bringing down a long pass from defence, saw his shot rattle the roof of the net with nine minutes left to play – the closest Qatar came to a first World Cup goal, finishing the game with zero efforts on target.
Sterner tests await and Qatar may soon join South Africa as the only host nations to go out from the group stages of the competition.
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