Ecuador defeated Qatar 2-0 in the opening game of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar at the Al Bayt Stadium. The 67,372 in attendance saw the South Americans control the match from beginning to end. Ecuador were unlucky not to win by a wider margin as Enner Valencia’s opening score in the fifth minute was annulled by the first automated offsides call in VAR and World Cup history.
The veteran Ecuadorean striker’s converted penalty at the 16th and header at the 31st were enough for the win though, as the Qataris were unable to get a single shot on target the entire match. Incredibly possession was about 46% to Ecuador to 40% to Qatar with 14% in dispute (stats courtesy of Telemundo who have a different and more accurate way of expressing possession).
The match’s outcome never seemed in dispute as the hosts simply were not at the level of the visitors. This will be a difficult cup for the Qatar fans who next see their team play African champions Senegal and European competitors Holland in Group A play. As for Ecuador, they got the key win, three points, and a +2-goal differential before meeting their tougher rivals and with Sadio Mane out of the cup, it now seems the Ecuadoreans might be in a good place to challenge for progression from this group.
Of note, FIFA chose top-notch Italian referee Daniele Orsato to officiate the opener and his work was outstanding. He gave allowed the game to flow but ensured things did not get overly physical. He gave out 6 yellow cards and they came out early, quickly, and often, to control all exuberance and provide subsequent officiating teams with a template of how it is done at this level. If you add the positive and relatively unobtrusive VAR contributions, the game was very well officiated.
The only complaint is that transparency is best served if the fans can view what video and graphics the refs used to make a decision as soon after the call as possible. It took several minutes for the television announcers to tell us the reason the Valencia goal was called back which led to speculation about the call.
In the style of an Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, the Qatar 2022 World Cup delivered an uplifting show that saw Morgen Freeman as MC, Fahad Al-Kubaisi pairing up with Jungkook to perform the World Cup anthem “Dreamers.” Mixing video and live presentation, fireworks, and light shows, the ceremony had the Emir deliver a welcoming speech in Arabic, US television coverage attempt to keep up with the English translation from a Qatari TV guest, and a classically garbed and leg-less young man conversing in English with Freeman and then providing a soliloquy in Arabic, about the meaning of the World Cup being hosted by Qatar. Thus, many racial, disability, cultural, and linguistic boxes were ticked in the name of inclusivity in a nation not renowned for such a quality.
The ceremony included some well-thought-out moments like when the singing included verses in the languages of the participating countries which were named in the song, and a mix of many of the previous cups’ anthems while their respective mascots floated above in balloon form. The organizers were quick to capitalize on many of the things that made the 2010 anthem globally popular and a hit song, and the refrains of Shakira’s opus were often repeated throughout. Similarly, the images of past Olympic ceremonies such as the one in China 2008, and Japan 2020, featuring a drum-beating shirtless man, were included as where dancing, singing, and videos that tried to argue Qatar had at least a decades-long soccer tradition. The beautiful Al Bayt Stadium was consistently rendered in close-up so as to avoid showing the waves of sand that surrounded the parking lot around the stadium.
All in all, a good start from the football, officiating, hosting, and USA television coverage of the cup. Here is hoping the tone has been set for better stuff to come from World Cup 2022.
Photo: Enner Valencia, Shutterstock ID: 198805505, by AGIF.