Ecuador got their World Cup off to a flying start as they breezed past host nation Qatar with a comfortable 2-0 win at Al Bayt Stadium.
This competition has been preceded by 12 years of discourse and debate, but in the end the opening game was simply men against boys as La Tricolor passed directly through Qatar’s defensive structure again and again.
The game kicked off at a frantic pace, with challenges flying in on both sides, and it took just two minutes for the first moment of drama in this competition to occur.
Ecuador, who are renowned for their set-piece prowess, floated a free kick into the box and benefitted from some good fortune when Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb failed to claim the ball.
The resulting scramble saw the ball flicked back across goal for Enner Valencia to head home – yet moments later, the referee indicated that the goal would not stand.
Replays of the goal showed that an Ecuador player was indeed offside, if only by the length of a kneecap, handing Qatar a major let-off.
Less than 15 minutes later, however, Qatar found themselves 1-0 down when Al Sheeb brought down Valencia in the penalty area and the former West Ham striker converted the penalty.
Qatar cut their domestic league short months ago in order to train as a team for several months ahead of the World Cup, but it was hard to see their hard work in action as they were consistently given the run-around by a well-drilled Ecuador side.
After half an hour it was 2-0, Valencia finding space in the box to reach Angelo Preciado’s cross and send an inch-perfect header past the hapless Al Sheeb.
After the excitement of the first half, the second was a pretty dismal affair as Ecuador controlled the game without pushing too hard for a third goal. With Qatar offering so little in attack, perhaps manager Gustavo Alfaro instructed his players to conserve their energy in the stifling Gulf heat.
The tactic paid off, with the game being reduced to a snail’s pace as Ecuador did enough to come away with the win.
It was a chastening afternoon for Qatar, who have seen the reality of entering a World Cup unprepared and have a lot of work to do before they face Senegal in their second fixture.
GK: Saad Al Sheeb – 3/10 – A long and painful afternoon for the Qatari goalkeeper, who looked uncomfortable from the first whistle and was punished for it.
CB: Bassam Al-Rawi – 4/10 – Put under an awful lot of pressure and struggled to deal with it.
CB: Boualem Khoukhi – 4/10 – Too loose with his passing throughout, making it difficult for his side to build from the back.
CB: Abdelkarim Hassan – 7/10 – One of the few Qatari players to emerge from this match with some credit, looking relatively comfortable on the ball.
RWB: Pedro Miguel – 6/10 – Kept Ibarra and Estupinan at bay reasonably well.
CM: Abdulaziz Hatem – 5/10 – Simply couldn’t do anything to help his side gain a foothold in the game.
CM: Hassan Al-Haydos – 5/10 – Winning his 169th cap for Qatar, this was a game Al-Haydos will want to forget in a hurry.
CM: Karim Boudiaf – /10 – Another player for whom this game simply passed them by.
LWB: Homam Elamin – 6/10 – The only player to really come close to building some meaningful attacks for Qatar.
ST: Almoez Ali – 4/10 – Never managed to influence the game and can have no complaints about being substituted.
ST: Akram Afif – 7/10 – By far Qatar’s best player, Afif essentially had to play every position on the pitch to give his side a foothold in the game.
SUB: Mohammed Muntari – N/A
SUB: Mohammed Waad – N/A
Manager: Felix Sanchez – 5/10 – There’s no doubting the fact that Ecuador simply have better players than Qatar – but why did the Maroon look so unprepared and disjointed? The buck has to stop with the manager.
GK: Hernan Galindez – 6/10 – Never mind having a deckchair out – Galindez could have done the Observer crossword during this match.
RB: Angelo Preciado – 8/10 – Caused problems with his runs down the right flank and set up the second goal with a delicious cross.
CB: Felix Torres – 6/10 – Was caught napping once or twice, but there was no chance of Qatar punishing him for it.
CB: Piero Hincapie – 7/10 – A composed display from the Bayer Leverkusen man, although he’ll certainly have harder games.
LB: Pervis Estupinan – 7/10 – An assured performance from the Brighton left-back, who had plenty of freedom to push forwards.
RM: Gonzalo Plata – 7/10 – Showed off his impressive dribbling ability on a few occasions and Qatar couldn’t cope with it.
CM: Jhegson Mendez – 7/10 – He won’t get the acclaim for this win, but Mendez’ ability to drop into the defensive line was crucial to Ecuador’s build-up play.
CM: Moises Caicedo – 7/10 – Ran the midfield today and looked good doing so.
LM: Romario Ibarra – 7/10 – Got plenty of joy down the left flank and fashioned a couple of decent chances for himself.
ST: Enner Valencia – 9/10 – Terrorised the Qatar back line with his strength and movement, and was rewarded with two first-half goals. Ecuador face a nervous wait to learn the extent of the injury which forced him off.
ST: Michael Estrada – 7/10 – Another player who didn’t do loads on the ball, but confused the Qatari defence by drifting wide from his central starting position.
SUB: Jeremy Sarmiento – N/A
SUB: Jose Cifuentes – N/A
SUB: Alan Franco – N/A
SUB: Kevin Rodriguez – N/A
Manager: Gustavo Alfaro – 8/10 – This game was a story of one side that looked prepared, and one that didn’t. Ecuador knew Qatar’s weaknesses and played through them with ease, before managing the game at a controlled pace for most of the second half. Nicely done.