World Cup dismay for Qatar as Ecuador wins opening game

Nov 19, 2022, 8:04 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2022, 12:08 pm
Fans watch the group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022...

Fans watch the group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

              Fans watch the group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Fans watch the group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Ecuador's Enner Valencia, right, celebrates after scoring his second goal during the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
            
              Ecuador's Enner Valencia, left, is fouled by Qatar's goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb during the World Cup group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
            
              Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani waves next to FIFA President Gianni Infantino prior to the opening World Cup opening match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
            
              Smoke from fireworks is seen over the stadium at the opening ceremony prior he World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
            
              The mascot La'eeb is pictured at the opening ceremony prior he World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
            
              US actor Morgan Freeman, left, talks with FIFA World Cup Ambassador Ghanim Al Muftah, at the opening ceremony prior he World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
            
              Fireworks explode over the Al Bayt Stadium before the start of the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
            
              Ecuador's Enner Valencia, centre bottom, scores his side's second goal during the World Cup group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
            
              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. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — The large swathes of empty seats in the second half summed up the Qatar soccer team’s disappointing start to its first ever World Cup.

The night started with more than 67,000 mostly Qatari fans filling the cavernous Al Bayt Stadium, enjoying an opening ceremony that showcased the tiny Arab emirate to a global audience 12 years after winning the right to host soccer’s biggest event.

It ended with Qatar’s overmatched team trudging off the field, its unwanted place in soccer history secure and with many of its dismayed fans having long disappeared.

The controversy-laced tournament opened Sunday with the 2019 Asian Cup champions getting outplayed in a 2-0 loss to Ecuador, ensuring a host team lost its opening game for the first time at a World Cup.

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

Ecuador captain Enner Valencia scored both of his team’s goals in the first half of a one-sided game that wound up being a damage-limitation exercise for Qatar on one of the biggest nights in the nation’s history.

The match took place after a colorful 30-minute opening ceremony — fronted by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and attended by powerful dignitaries including Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — that promoted inclusivity and mankind living “under one tent.”

For many, that would jar with this World Cup being hosting by an emirate where homosexual acts are illegal, one that has come under strong criticism for how migrant workers have been treated building stadiums and tournament infrastructure since Qatar won the scandal-shrouded vote in 2010.

The yearslong scrutiny was never going to stop just because play on the field finally entered the narrative of a tournament dogged by human-rights controversies, yet a win for the host nation would have at least put a favorable light on Qatar, soccer-wise.

Instead, Qatar’s players, fresh from spending seven months together in a pre-tournament training camp under Sanchez, froze in front of an expectant crowd and a disciplined Ecuador team that might just pose a danger to more high-profile opponents over the next few weeks.

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

In what might go down as one of the worst displays by a host nation to open a tournament, Qatar had five shots in the match and none of them were on target. The team had only two touches inside the opposition penalty area.

Put simply, Ecuador was just too good for a team only playing at the World Cup because it is the host.

“I wouldn’t say we were naïve,” Sanchez said. “I would say this 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 a video review of about two minutes, Ecuadorian celebrations were cut short when the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside.

Ecuador did take the lead, however, in the 16th minute when Valencia — running onto a through-ball — was tripped by Saad Alsheeb after rounding the goalkeeper, who was booked for the challenge. Valencia was nonchalant as he trotted up and converted the spot kick into the bottom corner.

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

With Qatar’s passes often going astray and its defensive raggedness repeatedly exposed, Ecuador had no problem holding onto its lead as Sanchez stood helpless in his technical area and the home fans fell quiet.

Many didn’t return for the second half. And heading into the final quarter of the game, thousands of seats were empty.

It marked a huge 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 located in the rather isolated surrounds of the rural town of Al Khor, north of Doha.

And the seven-act opening ceremony lived up to its billing, the highlight being when Freeman extended one yellow-gloved hand to a FIFA World Cup ambassador suffering from a rare spinal disorder in an image representing inclusion in a country facing international criticism over its human-rights record.

Looking on from the luxury seats were FIFA president Gianni Infantino alongside leaders from the Middle East and Africa. Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, drew a thunderous applause in a short speech delivered in Arabic from the suite, with Infantino and the monarch’s father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, on either side of him.

“I welcome you and good luck to all,” the emir said in his only words spoken in English.

After this display, Qatar will need more than just luck to avoid joining South Africa as being the only host nation to fail to get out of the group stage at the World Cup.

“We have to forget about the pressure and be more competitive,” Sanchez said. “We can do it.”

BEER CHANT

The first half was winding down when a chant came from a large section of vocal, yellow-clad Ecuador fans: “We want beer.” It was a humorous intervention two days after Qatar decided to ban beer sales at the stadiums during the World Cup. It was a late change by the conservative Islamic nation where access to alcohol is strictly limited. Only alcohol-free Bud Zero was sold at the game.

VALENCIA INJURY

In a concern for Ecuador, Valencia — the national team’s top scorer — was substituted in the 77th minute and said after the game he had discomfort in his knee and ankle. “I hope I can be ready,” he said about the team’s next game, against the Netherlands on Friday. Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro was under no illusions, though, saying: “Enner, he will play.”

UP NEXT

Qatar will look to bounce back against Senegal, also on Friday.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Then-Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza walks on the sideline during the first half of a prese...
Associated Press

Ex-Bills punter Araiza won’t be charged in alleged gang rape

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Former Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza will not be charged in connection with an alleged gang rape of a 17-year-old girl at an off-campus party last year when he played football for San Diego State University, prosecutors said Wednesday. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said no charges will be […]
16 hours ago
Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) takes off in the first half of an NFL football gam...
Associated Press

McVay: Baker Mayfield likely to be active for Rams vs Vegas

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Coach Sean McVay says Baker Mayfield probably will be active for the Los Angeles Rams’ game against the Raiders on Thursday night, just two days after the Rams claimed the former No. 1 draft pick off waivers from Carolina. McVay wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Mayfield playing against Las Vegas, […]
16 hours ago
University of Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams, left, and football coach Tony Elliott wipe...
Associated Press

Virginia football players granted extra year of eligibility

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia football players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed Wednesday. Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from […]
16 hours ago
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal meets the media to announce the Netherlands World Cup 2022 squad, ...
Associated Press

Van Gaal’s World Cup with Dutch has hugs, kisses and dancing

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Three wins from the title that has eluded the Netherlands, Louis van Gaal has filled his World Cup with hugs, kisses and dancing. Leading his nation for the third time at age 71, he is the tournament’s oldest coach. He also may be the most dapper, pacing the sideline in a […]
2 days ago
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh smiles after defeating Purdue in the Big Ten championship NCAA col...
Associated Press

Study: Racial gap in grad rates drops again for bowl teams

The racial gap in graduation rates for this year’s bowl teams in college football has declined again, this time to the smallest difference in the history of a study examining the data. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida reported Wednesday that the overall Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for bowl-bound […]
2 days ago
Graphic shows NFL team matchups and predicts the winners; 3c x 1/4 inches...
Associated Press

Pro Picks sees Rams making history to kick off Week 14

The Los Angeles Rams can make history when Week 14 kicks off Thursday night. A loss to the Las Vegas Raiders would give the Rams 10 this season, tying the 1999 Denver Broncos for most by a defending Super Bowl champion. With plenty of games remaining, the Rams (3-9) are well on their way to […]
2 days ago
World Cup dismay for Qatar as Ecuador wins opening game