Qatar has suffered a historic loss as a rampant Enner Valencia scored two goals and had one disallowed to inspire Ecuador to a 2-0 victory in Al Khor.
By losing, Qatar — already in turmoil over claims the nation was not fit to host the event due to a myriad of issues — became the first host nation in World Cup history to lose the tournament’s opening match.
In truth, the Asian champions were never in the hunt and were hopelessly outclassed in their debut on football’s biggest stage.
The biggest thorn in their side, was Ecuador’s captain, Valencia.
It had seemed it had only taken three minutes for Valencia to open the scoring in the tournament when Qatar goalkeeper Saad Alsheeb came for a free kick, only to fail to clear the ball before Felix Torres mis-hit a bicycle kick attempt and Valencia headed it home from close range.
But the goal was reviewed on VAR and not given after it was controversially ruled that fellow striker Michael Estrada was offside in the build-up.
Valencia and Ecuador did not have their resolve broken though and just over 10 minutes later the Fenerbache striker was played-in behind the Qatar defence before he was brought down by Alsheeb as he rounded the Qatar keeper.
Alsheeb was shown a yellow card and Valencia then stepped up to the penalty spot and sent the keeper the wrong way, as he calmly side-footed the ball into the net.
That was just a taste and minutes later Valencia was fouled by Qatar striker Almoez Ali, who was shown a yellow for a crude challenge.
Shortly after that Valencia doubled Ecuador’s lead, this time with a fantastic headed finish on the end of a cross to the far post by Angelo Preciado in the 31st minute.
Karim Boudiaf then became the third Qatari into the book for another bad challenge on the turning Valencia, leaving the 33-year-old Ecuador striker clutching his knee.
For Valencia though, the start to the tournament was near to perfection.
“I dreamt so many times about winning this opening match,” Valencia said.
“This was a dream that I managed to score and help my team get the three points
“We managed to score a couple of quick goals, which helped us to get control of the game and win the three points … We think we can go very far and perform well.”
It took until the last minute of first-half injury time for Qatar to have a chance, as Ali got on the end of a cross but managed to head it wide from the centre of the six-yard box.
If the first half was Ecuador at close to their best the second saw the South Americans taking a more conservative approach.
Valencia, who suffered some knee pain due to some of the first-half challenges, failed to have as much impact and was substituted in the 77th minute.
And his teammates spurned some good chances.
First Romario Ibarra had his somewhat tame shot parried away by Alsheeb before substitute Jeremy Sarmiento sprayed a shot over the bar late but was found to be offside.
Qatar were largely outplayed and failed to force a save from Ecuador keeper Hernan Galindez throughout the match but they very nearly had life in the 86th minute when substitute striker Mohammed Muntari launched an audacious bid for goal.
The striker was played through and turned to lash a volley from long range that looped over the head of Galindez but landed on top of the net, to save the blushes of the Ecuador stopper and snuff out any hope of a last-gasp miracle for the hosts.
Both sides now have to play Senegal and the Netherlands in the group stage, with Qatar’s chances of picking up points or qualifying looking slim on this performance — something that has left coach Felix Sanchez disappointed.
“Obviously this was not what we were hoping for,” Sanchez said.
“There is no excuse. I want to congratulate our opponents Ecuador.
“There is a lot of room for improvement. We did not play at our best level. Maybe the responsibility and the nerves got the better of us.”