DOHA: The 2022 FIFA World Cup kicked off with an opening ceremony of pop and pomp, but a poor performance from host nation Qatar spoiled celebrations on Sunday (Nov 20).
At the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor, a double from Fenerbache striker Enner Valencia gave Ecuador the three points and the top spot in Group A.
The 0-2 defeat marked the first time a host nation has lost their opening game at the World Cup.
Qatar will next face Senegal on Nov 25, while Ecuador will go up against Netherlands.
It was a night which promised much for Qatar, who were making their World Cup debut.
And there was a buzz as early as three hours before kickoff, as fans slowly streamed into the stadium, a 60,000 seater arena resembling a giant tent.
The tournament’s 30 minute opening ceremony was headlined by BTS’ Jungkook.
Actor Morgan Freeman added extra starpower to proceedings as he featured in and narrated the opening act alongside Ghanim al Muftah, a Qatari who was born with a condition that impairs the development of the lower spine.
Next up was a segment featuring chants of the various World Cup nations, and opened by a traditional Qatar dance, the Ardha.
A medley of World Cup anthems including Shakira’s hit “Waka Waka” boomed as mascots from past World Cups pranced on centre-stage.
And there were cheers for tournament mascot La’eeb as the white soccer-playing turban unfurled before K-pop star Jungkook belted out his catchy new single Dreamers.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar then delivered a short speech in Arabic before fireworks painted the evening sky.
A CONTROVERSIAL TOURNAMENT
The decision to award Qatar hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup has been marred by controversy, with allegations of corruption and human rights violations, since it was first announced 12 years ago.
In the days preceding a turbulent build-up to the tournament, Qatar has also come under increased scrutiny over a litany of issues such as unfinished fan accommodation options.
In a reversal, FIFA also announced on Friday that no alcoholic beer will be sold to fans around any of the eight World Cup stadiums following "discussions" with Qatar.
The announcement came two days before Sunday's kick-off.
In front of various dignitaries including FIFA president Gianni Infantino, the home side took the game to their higher-ranked opponents right from kick-off, to the delight of a swathe of fans behind the Qatar goal.
But most of the 67,372 strong crowd were immediately stunned into silence as Qatar goalkeeper Saad Alsheeb flapped at a set-piece and Valencia headed home.
The goal however was quickly chalked off to as VAR called for an offside.
Ecuador would get their goal about 10 minutes later as the Qatar defence was carved open by a through ball and Valencia was felled by the onrushing Al Sheeb.
The former West Ham striker would calmly tuck home his penalty to give his side the lead.
Valencia scored all of Ecuador’s three goals on their last World Cup appearance in 2014 and the goal meant became his country’s top scorer at the World Cup.
As Qatar struggled to get any foothold in the game, Valencia would double his tally in the 31st minute as he nodded home a tantalising delivery from the right.
Felix Sanchez’s men would get a rare chance to reduce arrears right on the stroke of halftime but Almoez Ali could only plant his header wide.
The second 45 was a drab affair as Ecuador sat back while Qatar failed to exert substantial pressure. A 84th minute effort from substitute Mohammed Muntari which dipped just over would be the closest they would come.
With Valencia limping off, the game would eventually peter out to a quiet conclusion with pockets of empty seats increasing evident towards the end.
And in a night where the World Cup spotlight shone on Qatar, it was the opening ceremony which delivered, rather than the host nation’s performance on the pitch.