The FIFA World Cup opens with host country Qatar facing Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, November 20.
Making its World Cup debut, Qatar, which has won its last four friendlies, will look to make a winning start in a contest between the 50th and 44th ranked nations in the world before facing the big boys of Group A, the Netherlands and Senegal.
Coach Felix Sanchez, in charge since 2017, is aware of the task in hand and is relying on the playing chemistry of the Al Saad gang – 13 of his 26 players come from the Qatar Super League champion – to earn the football world’s respect and offer early legitimacy to the nation’s dream project.
“It’s an extraordinary day like no other. We have made such a huge effort in this country. We are all devoted to this World Cup and have invested so much. I hope it’s a great party where we can enjoy football and I hope everyone from all countries in the world, together, can enjoy this experience. I’m happy to be the ones kicking off this competition,” he said ahead of the historical game.
“We are very much aware of who we are, where we are coming from and who we are facing. We know it will be a great challenge but, in many ways, we are eager to play and are very happy to be here.”
Ecuador, with Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo and the experienced Enner Valencia in its ranks, is short of goals coming into the World Cup but is tough to break down, conceding none in its last six games since June.
Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro had criticised FIFA’s move to prepone the game by a day to fit in a grand opening ceremony, but on Sunday both teams will be happy to kick-off the World Cup.
They’ll hope the game and its stars will do enough to banish the controversies that have bogged down both nations.