Enner Valencia scored twice as Ecuador defeated Qatar 2-0 in the tournament opener on Sunday, making Qatar the first home team to lose their opening World Cup game.
Asian champions Qatar had the support of the majority of spectators at the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium, but they were unable to deliver a powerful performance after the opulent opening ceremony.
Ecuador thought they had gotten off to a perfect start when Valencia headed in to hush the home crowd, but VAR disallowed the goal for offside in the build-up.
In the 16th minute, Valencia did score a penalty that broke the tie, and shortly after that, he doubled his total.
In the second half, Qatar made a modest improvement, but by the end of the 90 minutes, the anticipation generated by the build-up, which included Morgan Freeman and BTS member Jung Kook, had vanished into oblivion as tens of thousands of spectators left the game early amid a deflated atmosphere.
Felix Sanchez’s Qatar will probably need a win against Senegal in their second Group A game on Friday simply to avoid the shame of becoming the second host nation to be eliminated in the first round after South Africa in 2010.
The fans had high expectations for Qatar to start off strong, but Ecuador’s performance brutally highlighted the shortcomings of the World Cup rookies.
Many fans left the stadium before the final siren because Qatar was unable to even generate a shot on goal during the game.
Home nations had previously won 16 and drawn six of their opening matches in the 92-year history of the competition.
Within three minutes, the South Americans had scored as captain Valencia nodded in Felix Torres’ errant overhead kick.
After Torres and Saad Al Sheeb of Qatar fought for the ball, VAR officials identified an offside against Michael Estrada in the buildup.
But in the early exchanges, Ecuador fully dominated, and they were given a penalty after Valencia was tripped by Al Sheeb while through on goal.
The former West Ham forward calmly scored his 36th goal for his country by coolly sending Al Sheeb the wrong way from the penalty spot.
After a strong run by Moises Caicedo, right back Angelo Preciado whipped in a cross that Valencia met with a powerful header. Ecuador did not have to wait long to double their advantage.
Even the tiny group of clearly animated Qatari supporters seated behind the goal, who arrived as a group after the majority of the crowd and were wearing matching t-shirts, temporarily fell silent.
On the cusp of halftime, Almoez Ali, the hero of Qatar’s 2019 Asian Cup victory, had a chance to pull one back but could only drive a free header wide from eight yards out.
After the break, Ecuador gave Qatar more possession of the ball, but they continued to be the more dangerous team, with Romario Ibarra forcing Al Sheeb into a diving save.
After taking a number of hard challenges, Valencia walked off in the 77th minute, but it would only have diminished the significance of a memorable night for Ecuador. The stadium was little over half filled when the official attendance of 67,372 was announced.