After the glitz and glamour of the opening ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the football action on the pitch, which rolled on with a match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador, had a lot of anxious moments for the Ecuadorian fans, especially in the first quarter at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.
In the thick of the action was Fenerbahce striker Enner Valencia. The 33-year-old had a third-minute header ruled out in bizarre circumstances under the VAR rule. The former West Ham and Everton striker, however, came back to strike twice in the first half and take his team into the half time with a 2-0 lead.
Valencia broke the deadlock in the 16th minute after converting a penalty which he had earned. He became the oldest player to score a goal in the opening game of a World Cup. Valencia then made it 2-0 at the half-hour mark, heading home Angelo Presciado’s cross.
Ecuador, ranked 44th and just six places above the hosts on the FIFA computer, meant business from the kick off and were clinical in their passing bouts and enjoyed a major part of the ball possession.
The hosts came back strongly only at the fag end of the first half with Akram Afif the fulcrum of the attacks.
The match action had some highs very early after Ecuador’s opening goal was ruled out despite no evident offside in the initial replays. Valencia headed home following an acrobatic effort across the face of the goal that the striker duly converted to give his side the perfect start in the Middle East. The goal was later ruled out for apparent offside by the seven VAR officials.
At first, it was not clear which Ecuador player was adjudged to have been ruled offside, creating further confusion as to why the goal was ruled out.
The header, which came after just 160 seconds, would have been the fastest-ever goal at a World Cup finals as Valencia and Ecuador were denied a priceless piece of history.
The incident was later cleared up by an official graphic from FIFA that showed that Ecuador forward Michael Estrada’s foot was fractionally offside when he challenged goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.
Estrada had headed the ball back to Felix Torres, who was on hand to deliver into the danger zone for man of the moment, Valencia.
Qatar’s Sadd Al Sheeb was all at sea for the goal and although he was let off the hook following the decision to disallow the header, he did not cover himself in glory in the opening exchanges of the match.
Moments later, he would bring down Ecuador frontman Valencia as he was running towards the goal.
The referee then pointed to the penalty spot as Fenerbahce striker Valencia slotted home with ease for the opening goal of the tournament — this time there would be no doubt.
Thereafter, Ecuador dominated play, enjoying the major chunk of ball possession but could not trouble the scorers.
Qatar made a late comeback and in this period Alomez Ali had a huge chance to pull one back. Qatar broke down the right hand side after the free-kick and fired the ball into the box. Ali, who was practically unmarked, didn’t have to do much, just headed it in the general direction of the goal. However, he headed wide instead and missed his chance to get Qatar back into the game.
In the second half, Qatar’s backline was far too slow on the ball and was inviting pressure and putting themselves in a difficult spot with coach Felix Sanchez fuming.
Homan Ahmed was Qatar’s best player especially in the second half with Afif making not much of his presence felt in the second half.
Ahmed gave a superb display of brilliance when he just cut through two Ecuador players on the left before playing the ball to Hatem in the middle of the pitch. But, little came out of it.
On the other hand, Ecuador were content holding on to the ball — and to the lead — and not keen on an attacking game. They didn’t appear to have much intent of breaking into the rival defence and were more keen on seeing the final whistle.
Qatar, on the hand, pressed hard and created an opening with five minutes to go for the final whistle when substitute Mohammed Muntari covered a lot of distance but ended up shooting over the top.
Thereafter, Qatar could not make much of an impact with any attacking moves and Ecuador were more content in holding to their two-goal lead.
Referee Daniele Orsato had to keep the proceedings under control and reached for his pocket to show the yellow card to three Qatari players Karim Boudiaf, Afifa and Ali.
Two Ecuador players, Jhegson Mendez and Moises Caicedo, were also booked by the referee.Line-up:
Qatar: Saad Alsheeb, Pedro Miguel, Abdelkarim Hassan, Homam Ahmed, Bassam Hisham, Boualem Khoukhi, Abdulaziz Hatem, Hassan Alhaydos (Mohammed Waad), Karim Boudiaf, Akram Afif, Almoez Ali (Mohammed Muntari).
Ecaudor: Hernan Galindez, Felix Torres, Piero Hincapie, Pervis Estupinan, Angelo Preciado, Romario Ibarra (Jeremy Sarmiento), Gonzalo Plata, Jhegson Mendez, Moises Caicedo (Alan Franco 90), Michael Estrada (Kevin Rodriguez 68), Enner Valencia.