Qatar crashes down to earth with opening loss

After each matchday of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Sportsnet.ca’s World Cup Daily blog will recap the day’s events and look ahead to the next day’s slate of games.

Here’s what happened Sunday, in case you missed it…

THE RESULTS

Qatar 0, Ecuador 2 in Al Khor: Match Report | Match Stats

MAIN TALKING POINTS

Qatar makes history for all the wrong reasons

The euphoria of finally having its day in the sun as World Cup hosts was realized by Qatar when the tournament kicked off Sunday. Soon after, reality set in for the team from the Gulf state nation.

Qatar suffered a 2-0 loss to Canada in Vienna in an international friendly back in September, a game that was noteworthy for a number of reasons, including the Qataris looking abjectly awful. But Qatar’s World Cup debut was something else, as this was easily one of the worst performances by a host nation in tournament history.

A 2-0 defeat to Ecuador in Group A completely flattered an overmatched Qatar, who became the first host country to lose its opening game of the competition. Previously, the host nation had never lost its opening match in any of the 21 World Cups, going a combined 16-0-6 dating back to the first tournament in 1930 (there were two hosts in 2002).

The Qataris struggled to string passes together through the opening 45 minutes, could not deal with Ecuador’s set-piece deliveries or its crosses into the box, and finished the game without registering a single shot on target.

How inept was Qatar’s attack? Consider this: They didn’t have a single touch of the ball inside Ecuador’s 18-yard box until the final few minutes of the first half.

Only one host nation has ever failed to get out of the group stage at the World Cup. But at least when South Africa bowed out in 2010 it did so by scoring a goal and earning a point.

It’s difficult to envision how this Qatar team, whose entire 26-man roster is made up of players who play in the country’s very modest domestic league, will even be able to manage what South Africa did 12 years ago. It only gets more difficult for Qatar as their next games are against reigning African champions Senegal and European giants Netherlands.

Enner Valencia shines in win for Ecuador

It was a complete team performance by Ecuador, who dominated their opponents in every facet of the game. But one contributor to the South Americans’ cause stood above the rest: Enner Valencia.

The veteran striker is playing in his second World Cup after making his tournament debut in 2014, and the 33-year-old certainly made up for lost time by scoring twice inside the first 31st minutes to guide his country to victory.

The Fenerbahçe forward looked to have scored after only three minutes, but the goal was waived off on an offside call after a VAR review. Valencia would not be denied, though, and just 13 minutes later he gave Ecuador the lead when he calmly converted from the penalty spot.

Just after the half-hour mark, Valencia did it again, this time connecting on a powerful header that sailed past Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb off a dangerous cross whipped into the box by teammate Ángelo Preciado.

As Ecuador’s captain and all-time top scorer (37 goals in 75 games), Valencia has now scored each of his country’s last five goals at the World Cup. If he opens the scoring in his team’s next Group A encounter, he’ll tie the tournament record for consecutive goals for one team, held by Eusébio (Portugal, 1966), Paolo Rossi (Italy, 1982) and Oleg Salenko (Russia, 1994 ), who all scored six in a row for their respective countries.

Questions were being asked of Ecuador prior to the World Cup, mostly about who would produce the goals for this offensively challenged side. Valencia stepped up in a big way Sunday as the team’s main reference point in attack, but he limped off the pitch in the 76th minute and had to be subbed out of the game. Whether he’s seriously injured remains to be seen, but the South Americans will be hoping Valencia can continue based on the way he terrorized Qatar’s defence.

Ecuador’s Enner Valencia celebrates scoring his side’s second goal against Qatar during a World Cup group A soccer match at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (Manu Fernandez/AP)

GOAL OF THE DAY

Ecuador doubled its advantage in the 31st minute when Preciado delivered a precise and dangerous ball deep into Qatar’s penalty area. Valencia connected on a powerful header that snuck inside the near post and just beyond the reach of goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb, who tried to make a diving save.

MOMENT OF THE DAY

After months of anticipation, the World Cup finally kicked off Sunday, with the opening kickoff officially marking the beginning of a month-long festival of soccer. Funnily, Qatar couldn’t wait for the countdown to end and actually kicked off the game a few seconds early.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“What unites us here in this moment is so much greater than what divides us. How can we make it last longer than just today.” — Actor Morgan Freeman during Sunday’s opening ceremony.

Actor Morgan Freeman speaks during the opening ceremony for the World Cup, prior to the group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (Manu Fernandez/AP)

SIX PACK OF STATS

Valencia’s first goal Sunday marked the first time that the opening goal of a World Cup tournament was scored from the penalty spot.

• Ecuador’s goal in the third minute was ruled out following a VAR review. That’s the first time in World Cup history that a goal was overturned by VAR — it never happened four years ago in Russia.

• At 33 years and 16 days, Valencia is the oldest player to score the opening goal of a World Cup, beating the record previously held by Italy’s Alessandro Altobelli (30 years and 184 days) vs. Bulgaria in 1986.

Qatar is just the third nation to play its first-ever World Cup match while hosting the tournament, joining Uruguay (in 1930) and Italy (in 1934).

• Ecuador has now gone seven games in a row without conceding a goal. The South Americans’ defense has not been breached since a 1-1 draw against Argentina on March 29, 2022, in a World Cup qualifier.

• Valencia has scored on 50 percent of his shots at the World Cup (five goals on 10 shots).

Some stats courtesy of Opta.

SPORTSNET IN QATAR

Sportsnet.ca contributor Peter Galindo is in Qatar covering the World Cup. He attended Canada’s training session on Sunday when Alphonso Davies, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury, trained with the test.

Canada’s opening match is against Belgium on Wednesday.

THREE STARS OF THE DAY

1. Enner Valencia, Ecuador: The Fenerbahçe forward effectively led the attacking line for the Ecuadorians and bagged a brace to guide his country to a comfortable victory.

2. Jason Méndez, Ecuador: The MLS star was outstanding in anchoring his team’s midfield with his interceptions to help link the back line and the attack.

3. Moisés Caicedo, Ecuador: The 21-year-old was a whirlwind of creativity, completing 91 percent of his passes and helping Ecuador dominate in the midfield.

LOOKING AHEAD TO MONDAY

England faces Iran (8 am ET) and the United States takes on Wales (2 pm ET) in a pair of Group B games.

But Group A’s offering of the Netherlands versus Senegal is the most intriguing match of the day. Senegal had quite a bit of momentum ahead of the World Cup after winning its first African Cup of Nations earlier this year. But Bayern Munich striker Sadio Mané was officially ruled out of the tournament this past week due to a leg injury. It’ll be interesting to see how the Africans get on without Mané, the reigning African player of the year and the main reference point of the Senegalese attack.


John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *