The longest wait for a men’s World Cup since the 1950s is finally over. 1,586 days after Hugo Lloris hoisted aloft the golden statue, Qatar and Ecuador will open the 22nd edition of the global football jamboree.
The tournament has been mired in controversy from the day Sepp Blatter slowly pulled Qatar’s name out of an envelope in 2010. Despite the increasing scrutiny of numerous human rights groups and the wider media, the quadrennial celebration of the world’s favourite game will kick off in Al Kohr on Sunday afternoon.
Qatar, reigning Asian Cup champions, have been pitted against an Ecuador side that had to navigate the courts after securing qualification following accusations that an ineligible player was used.
Here’s everything you need to know about the opening match of the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar vs Ecuador H2H Results (All Time)
Qatar: 1 Win
Ecuador: 1 Win
Current Form (Last Five Games)
Qatar team news
The Qatari Stars League has effectively been suspended since September to provide Felix Sanchez’s squad with ample preparation time for the nation’s maiden appearance in the World Cup finals.
In Qatar’s final friendly before the curtain-raiser, Akram Afif started on the bench against Albania. The 25-year-old is half of Qatar’s principal attacking duo alongside Almoez Ali (who scored the game’s only goal). It would be a significant shock if Afif did not line up at the Al Bayt this Sunday.
Qatar Starting 11 (3-5-2): Sheeb; Khoukhi, Rawi, A Hassan; Ro-Ro, Hatem, Haydos, Boudiaf, Amin; Afif, Ali.
Bench: Y Hassan, Barsham, Waad, Salman, Kheder, Mohammad, Assadalla, Hajri, Madibo, Hadhrami, Gaber, Meshaal, Alaaeldin, Muntari, Muneer.
Ecuador team news
Robert Arboleda played his first match since June in Ecuador’s final pre-World Cup friendly against Iraq last weekend after recovering from a fractured ankle.
Brighton’s Jeremy Sarmiento wasn’t involved while he nurses a muscular problem sustained shortly before the Premier League’s pause this month. Carlos Gruezo is also a doubt after limping out of Augsburg’s defeat to Bochum within the opening half-hour last Saturday.
Ecuador Starting 11 (4-2-3-1): Dominguez; Arboleda, Torres, Hincapie, Estupinan; Mendez, Caicedo; Plata, Cifuentes, Ibarra; Valencia.
Bench: Galindez, Ramirez, Pacho, Arreaga, An Preciado, Palacios, Porozo, Gruezo, Ay Preciado, Mena, Sarmiento, Franco, Estrada, Reasco, Rodriguez.
Ecuador serve as politicly pliant opposition for Qatar’s opening match of this hotly controversial World Cup. There hasn’t been a whiff of opposition to the myriad of human rights abuses surrounding the competition and Enner Valencia will not be wearing a rainbow-coloured armband.
However, Gustavo Alfaro’s side are unlikely to be quite as accommodating on the pitch. Since holding Argentina to a 1-1 draw in March, Ecuador have kept six consecutive clean sheets (against varying opposition) and boast a potent threat at attacking set pieces.
Qatar have been building towards this tournament for more than a decade and sent the national team into a training camp in September. No World Cup host has ever lost their opening match, a record Qatar may uphold with the eyes of the world on them this weekend.
Prediction: Qatar 0-0 Ecuador