At the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the opening match of the highly contentious 2022 World Cup pits hosts Qatar against Ecuador in Group A.
The South American nation returns to the World Cup finals after an eight-year hiatus, while Felix Sanchez Bas’s team is playing for the first time in their history on the largest international platform.
The 2022 hosts enjoy the distinguished honor of opening the newest World Cup, as local leagues take a break to allow the worlds best to gather in the Middle East, just a week after Sepp Blatter admitted that Qatar should not have been given the event in the first place.
Since Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup back in 2010, controversy has reared its ugly head; but, on the field, Sanchez Bas and his team of future legends have only worked to improve their chances of progressing past Group A.
Against 2010 World Cup finalists and Africa Cup of Nations champions Senegal The Netherlands is definitely a baptism of fire for the 50th-ranked country in the world, but they have participated in four friendly matches as a warm-up and have won all four of them since October.
The Maroons are now aiming to become the first World Cup debutants to win their opening match since Senegal defeated then-defending champions France in 2002. In recent weeks, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and most recently Albania have all succumbed to Qatar’s superiority, with star striker Almoez Ali scoring the only goal against the latter.
Sanchez Bas’s team, on the other hand, is attempting to prevent being the second World Cup hosts to not advance past the group stage, following South Africa in 2010. However, a win here would also make Qatar the first AFC country to win its first-ever World Cup matchup.
Not only Qatar but Ecuador was also involved in controversy before to the start of the World Cup after fielding an ineligible player during qualification. Ecuador was reportedly threatened with elimination from the competition.
However, nothing of the such happened, and the South American country is currently preparing to return to the game’s grand finale after being rejected from Russia 2018, although generating headlines at the World Cup has not been their strong suit thus far.
Ecuador has already participated in three competitions, in 2002, 2006, and 2014, although they have only ever advanced past the group stages once, losing in the round of 16 back in 2002. This is also the first occasion that they have ever won their opening game of the competition.
The pattern for Gustavo Alfaro’s team throughout their pregame warm-up phase has been clean sheets. Amazingly, Ecuador has recorded six shutouts from six games since the beginning of June, but they have only scored twice themselves, with four of those six games ending in a scoreless draw.
Last Saturday’s match between Ecuador and Iraq ended in another goalless draw for the Tricolor, and Qatar has previously faced its South American opponents three times at home, going 1-0 up, 0-0, and losing to the team that will be looking to ruin the fun.
Ahead of this game, Qatar’s medical staff has already been hard at work since forward Ahmed Alaaeldin, who was forced off against Albania last week after suffering an undisclosed injury, was always anticipated to miss this one.
Ali, who is tied for the team lead in goals with 42, could team up with Akram Afif in a two-man attack, and the two will lead the charge for a Qatari team that is mostly defensive in nature.
Abdelkarim Hassan, an international with 130 caps, should control a five-man backline, while captain Hassan Al-Haydos, who is vying to replace Ali Asad, will aim for his 170th cap behind the strikers.
Byron Castillo, 24, left the field early in Ecuador’s last warm-up game due to a first-half injury, but he was really the player who got caught up in the ineligibility controversy and was not included in the Tricolor’s 26-man roster.
As a result, even though Robert Arboleda has only recently recovered from an ankle fracture, one of Angelo Preciado or Robert Arboleda should play right back for the South Americans. Moises Caicedo, Carlos Gruezo, and Jeremy Sarmiento were not involved against Iraq either; instead, they simply arrived after the game had ended.
Qatar’s possible starting lineup:
Al-Sheeb; Miguel, Al-Wari, Salman, Hassan, Ahmed; Hatem, Boudiaf; Al-Haydos; Ali, Afif
Ecuador’s possible starting lineup:
Dominguez; Preciado, Torres, Hincapie, Estupinan; Gruezo, Caicedo, Cifuentes; Plata, Valencia, Ibarra
Our Prediction: Qatar 1-2 Ecuador will win.
Qatar has no shortage of international-caliber players, so the Maroons will gain greatly from playing in their first World Cup match with an enthusiastic home audience behind them.
However, this Ecuadorian team has been known for its tenacious rearguard recently. While this trend may break here, Tricolor’s outstanding players can help them win the first game.
Group A fixtures
20 November: Al Bayt Stadium: Qatar-Ecuador 11:00 am ET / 08:00 am PT
21 November: Al Thumama Stadium: Senegal-Netherlands 11:00 am ET / 08:00 am PT
25 November: Al Thumama Stadium: Qatar-Senegal 08:00 am ET / 05:00 am PT
25 November: Khalifa International Stadium: Netherlands-Ecuador 11:00 am ET / 08:00 am PT
29 November: Khalifa International Stadium: Ecuador-Senegal 10:00 am ET / 07:00 am PT
29 November: Al Bayt Stadium: Netherlands-Qatar 10:00 am ET / 07:00 am PT