Overawed by the occasion and outplayed by Ecuador, FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar now need to respond
As far as debuts go, 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar will wish they could redo Sunday all over again.
But they can’t.
After the anticipation from a 12-year wait since they won the right to hold the tournament, the hype that they could make something out of their debut, and even the pressure to prove their worth given the recent controversy surrounding their status as hosts, the Qataris meekly succumbed to a 2-0 loss to Ecuador — courtesy on an Enner Valencia first-half double.
– Report: Qatar 0-2 Ecuador | World Cup fixtures, features
What can they do now? Respond.
The sole positive from such a disappointing performance on Sunday is that they can only get better.
Qatar certainly looked caught out by the bright lights that came with the curtain raiser, as well as fast-starting opponents who were far more comfortable on the biggest of stages with Ecuador making their fourth World Cup appearance in six editions.
The South Americans could easily have been ahead in the third minute but for the VAR ruling out an early header from Valencia, although it did little to prevent to prevent the former Premier League man from proving to be the match winner.
With Qatar struggling to offer any real supply to their front trio, star playmaker Akram Afif grew increasingly frustrated as the opening 45 wore on and even dropped as deep as the last defender to pick up possession.
Yet, in their only meaningful foray forward of the half, the hosts were able to carve out a decent opening as Almoez Ali sent a glancing header wide from a promising position after being picked out from the right by Hassan al-Haydos.
With Ecuador in possession of a handy lead at the break, they were more than content to play out the remainder of the contest in the second half for an opening three points, although the Qataris come close to grabbing a consolation late on when substitute Mohammed Muntari‘s speculative dipping half-volley narrowly cleared the crossbar.
Qatar will need more than two half-chances in the final third if they are to pose a problem for Senegal and then the mighty Netherlands in their next two Group A games.
The onus will now be on coach Felix Sanchez to figure out a way to get Afif, Almoez and al-Haydos more involved in the game. In particular, the latter — while deserving of his chance to lead Qatar out at a World Cup after 169 caps — is now 31 and is arguably no longer the potent force he once was.
Then, there is also the Abdelkarim Hassan conundrum for Sanchez to figure out. A former AFC Asian Footballer of the Year in 2018 as an unstoppable rampaging left-back, the Qatar coach’s current preference for a 3-4-3 system means Abdelkarim has slotted in one of the three centre-backs, robbing the team of one of their most potent outlets going forward.
There is plenty for Sanchez to sort out ahead of their next tie against Senegal on Friday.
After all the expectation surrounding Qatar finally gracing the World Cup, take one was unfortunately underwhelming.
Take two will now have to be a positive response.