In the 92 years of the World Cup, no host had lost their opening match before Qatar this morning fell 2-0 to Ecuador.
For a nation who had spent nearly two decades – and billions of dollars – developing their national team from minnows to reach the top-50 in the world rankings, it was an utterly humiliating start to the first World Cup on Arab soil.
It started in dire fashion, when Ecuador captain and all-time top scorer Enner Valencia found the back of the net inside three minutes after some miserable defending. What would have been the fastest goal in a World Cup curtain-raiser was fortunately (and controversially) ruled out by VAR, but Qatar’s day hardly improved.
Valencia was given a clear penalty in the 16th minute which he scored emphatically – the first time in history that the opening goal of a Cup came from the 12-yard dot. And he scored again in the 31st minute as Qatar’s porous defence was torn to shreds.
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Controversy within minutes of opener | 00:30
Qatar, the 2019 Asian Cup champions, never looked like troubling Ecuador and didn’t manage a shot on target in the entire match from their five attempts. In fact, as Ecuador cruised to victory, the South Americans also needed just six shots. The combined total of 11 attempts is the equal-fewest in any World Cup game on record, dating back to 1966.
Socceroos legend Tim Cahill works for Qatar’s Aspire Academy, which was founded in 2004 to turn youngsters into football stars with this World Cup its clear priority. His bold prediction that Qatar would not only win this match, but make it out of the group stage and beat England in the knockouts, now looks laughable given the host nation’s horrible performance in their World Cup debut.
Besides the Aspire Academy, Qatar built seven new stadiums and spent around $200 billion USD ($A300bn) in total for this World Cup. They poached a world-class coach in Felix Sanchez from Barcelona’s famous Academy.
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As hosts, Qatar was granted automatic qualification for the tournament. But their nightmare performance and timid tactical approach made a mockery of their status as Asian Cup champions, and led to brutal criticism around the world.
Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said: “Our nerves betrayed us, we started really badly.
“We were unable to string together four passes in a row. Also many defensive gaps.
“The team was not balanced and that hurt us a lot. When you play against a team of this level … you pay for it.”
“An awful performance right from the very beginning,” Australian great Craig Foster told SBS. “Really disappointing … zero ambition.”
At halftime, fellow Socceroos legend Mark Bosnich raised fears of a five-goal rout. “This could really get away from them. This could be four or five (goals),” he said.
But Ecuador adopted a more relaxed approach in the second stanza, comfortably controlling proceedings as they saw out a routine win.
After the game, Bosnich said the Qatar side could soon slump to another unwanted piece of history, with clashes with African champions Senegal and perennial contenders Netherlands to come.
“They’ll be severely disappointed,” he said. “They’ve got another game coming up against Senegal in I think five days and they’ve really got to pick themselves up or else they’ll become the first host nation to lose all three games as well … that was very poor.”
English legend Alan Shearer was similarly unimpressed with the hosts. He told BBC Sport: “It was won in the first half, a poor second half.
“Ecuador managed the game, kept the ball when they had to. It was flat in the second half, even the crowd disappeared after halftime.”
Speaking on commentary for talkSPORT, ex-Premier League striker Dean Ashton said: “Qatar have not offered anything, I think physically they’re struggling against Ecuador.
“Their forwards aren’t strong enough to hold up the ball. Qatar must be nervous, there’s a lot of expectation with being hosts.
“They’ve barely put two or three passes together, it’s all a bit panicky from them.”
He added: “I gave Qatar time for nerves but now I think they have just been really awful.”
Nearly half of the 67,372 fans – mostly Qatari – left the stadium well before full-time, such was the poor quality on display from their team, all of whom compete in the domestic league.
Goalkeeper Saad al Sheeb was singled out for his extremely poor first-half showing, having made a terrible decision to come out and attempt to punch away the ball that led to Enner Valencia’s ruled-out opener.
Al Sheeb then fouled Valencia in the box to give away the penalty, which Ecuador’s captain scored in the 16th minute.
But there was nothing the gloveman could do to prevent Valencia’s brilliant second strike, which he thundered powerfully home into the bottom corner.
Speaking on talkSPORT at halftime, presenter Adrian Durham said: “That Qatar keeper, absolute Sunday league, isn’t he?”
The 80-cap goalkeeper – who was given the captain’s armband late in the second half – continued to struggle throughout the match, clearing the ball poorly on multiple occasions and mislaying a host of passes.