Who: Qatar v Ecuador, Group A
Where: Al Bayt Stadium
When: Sunday, November 20, 7:00 PM (4:00 PM GMT)
FIFA ranking: Qatar (50), Ecuador (44)
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 starts on Sunday with a duel between the hosts and Ecuador.
The opening match and ceremony of the showpiece, the first to be held in the Middle East, will be held at the majestic 60,000 capacity Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Qatar’s capital Doha.
The fixture has been put forward with a day to comply with the tradition of the host country opening the match.
Once ranked 113th in the world, Qatar national team – nicknamed the Maroons – has risen to 50th in the FIFA rankings thanks to a string of successes in recent years, including a surprise first-ever victory in the Asian Cup in 2019.
The team also made a semifinal appearance last year at the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football Gold Cup as the host nation.
It will be Qatar’s first participation in a World Cup.
Led by Spanish coach Felix Sanchez, the Maroons hope to reach the next round from a group that also includes the European giants the Netherlands and African champion Senegal.
“It’s three games and we know the level of our opponent,” Sánchez told reporters on Saturday. “Because of their history, their individual talent, their careers in which they play, they are ahead of us.
“On paper they should take the three points. Maybe they are already counting on the three points. But we are here to show that we can be a competitive team. We will bring our ‘A game’ and try to get good results that will bring so much joy.
The team landed back in Doha seven days before kick-off, returning from an extensive training camp in Marbella, Spain.
“We want to show the results of all our hard work. God willing, we will perform much better than any match,” Qatar captain Hassan Al Haydos said at the pre-match press conference.
The player to watch is tricky left winger Akram Afif. The 25-year-old, who plays for Qatar’s Al Sadd, was named Asian Footballer of the Year in 2019 after leading Qatar to the continental trophy with one goal and 10 assists.
Even with the home field advantage, Qatar will not find it easy to win Ecuador.
With an average age of 25, the team nicknamed La Tri was the youngest team to qualify from South America and one of the youngest in the tournament.
Ecuador, ranked 44, had an impressive qualifying campaign, finishing fourth behind Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and losing just once at home. They beat Colombia 6-1, defeated Uruguay, took four points against Chile and drew with football heavyweights Brazil and Argentina.
The star of the team is Moises Caicedo who plays for Brighton and Hove Albion, an English Premier League side. The 21-year-old box-to-box midfielder brings balance and defensive strength to the young team.
If the Maroons want to take points against the La Tri, they will have to negate his effective passing and piercing runs.
Also keep an eye out for Gonzalo Plata, an exciting winger who plays for Real Valladolid in Spain.
Led by Argentina’s Gustavo Alfaro, who often prefers the 4-4-2 formation, La Tri will be looking for a better finish ever at a World Cup as they reached the round of 16 in 2006.