Ecuador cruised to a 2-0 victory over Qatar in the tournament’s opening encounter on Sunday, with Enner Valencia scoring twice. Asian champions Qatar had the support of the majority of the 60,000-person crowd at Al Bayt Stadium, but they were unable to follow up a glittering opening ceremony with a spectacular performance. Ecuador felt they had made a perfect start when they silenced the home crowd when Valencia headed in, only to have the goal ruled off by VAR for offside in the build-up.

Valencia did break the stalemate in the 16th minute with a penalty, and he doubled his tally shortly after the half-hour mark. Qatar improved marginally in the second half, but by the end of the 90 minutes, the euphoria that had greeted the build-up – which featured Morgan Freeman and BTS star Jung Kook – had faded as hundreds of spectators left early amid a depressing atmosphere.


Felix Sanchez’s Qatar will almost certainly need a win against Senegal in their second Group A match on Friday to avoid becoming only the second host, after South Africa in 2010, to be eliminated in the first round. The fans had high hopes that Qatar would make a winning start, but Ecuador mercilessly revealed the shortcomings of the World Cup debutants.

Qatar failed to register a single shot on goal in the encounter, and fans filed out long before the final whistle. Previously, home countries had won 16 and drawn six of their opening matches in the tournament’s 92-year history. Within three minutes, captain Valencia nodded home from Felix Torres’ miscued overhead kick.

Match highlights

In the build-up, VAR referees flagged Michael Estrada for offside after Torres challenged Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb for the ball. Ecuador, on the other hand, dominated the early exchanges and was awarded a penalty after Valencia was tripped by Al Sheeb while in on goal. The former West Ham striker calmly sent Al Sheeb the wrong way from the penalty spot, then caressed the ball into the bottom corner for his 36th international goal.

Ecuador did not have to wait long to increase their lead, as right-back Angelo Preciado whipped in a cross that Valencia met with a powerful header following a charging run by Moises Caicedo. Even the tiny group of clearly excited Qatari fans, who arrived after the majority of the audience and wore matching t-shirts, fell silent for a moment.

Almoez Ali, the hero of Qatar’s 2019 Asian Cup triumph, had a free header from eight yards out but could only nudge it wide. After the break, Ecuador gave Qatar more of the ball but still looked like the more dangerous side, with Romario Ibarra forcing a diving save from Al Sheeb. Valencia walked off in the 77th minute after being on the receiving end of a series of harsh challenges, but it would have only dimmed the luster of Ecuador’s historic night. Only on can you listen to the latest tunes.

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