Qatar have become the first host nation in football history to lose the opening game of the World Cup amid farcical scenes as the showpiece event kicked off on Sunday. The controversy-laced tournament opened with the hosts outplayed and embarrassed in a 2-0 defeat to Ecuador in front of 67,372 fans at Al Bayt Stadium.
In 92 years of football's biggest event, a host nation had never lost their opening game. But that all changed on Sunday as Qatar went down amid more controversy for the World Cup.
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The match took place after a colourful 30-minute opening ceremony - fronted by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and attended by powerful dignitaries including Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - that promoted inclusivity and mankind living "under one tent."
But that message seems jarring for many, with this World Cup being hosting by an emirate where homosexual acts are illegal, one that has come under strong criticism for how migrant workers have been treated building stadiums and tournament infrastructure since Qatar won the scandal-shrouded vote in 2010.
While the match started with over 67,000 fans in attendance, football fans around the world were dismayed when the stadium was half-empty early in the second half. Football broadcasts around the world showed dozens of empty seats in the stands in embarrassing scenes for FIFA and Qatar.
Many on social media were also quick to point out that there weren't too many women visible in the crowd, while others brutally labelled the Qatar World Cup the 'worst ever' after just one game.
The stadium emptying out when it's only 2-0 and there's more than half an hour to play is just embarrassing. #FIFAWorldCup
— Eddie Robson (@EddieRobson) November 20, 2022
Crowd at the final whistle.
Ecuador 2-0 Qatar pic.twitter.com/S7UHfKREAj
— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) November 20, 2022
What a shambles of a crowd for a #FIFAWorldCup opener. No atmosphere. Nothing. Worse opening game of a World Cup ever.
— Glasgow Cabby (@GlasgowCabby) November 20, 2022
#FIFAWorldCup opening match was disaster. The joy of watching is to see fan’s reaction in the stadium but #Qatar TV was just focused on showing the match so it can avoid showing any women in the crowd. It’s shameful that FIFA loves these anti human right regimes like Iran & Qatar
— Neisan (@neisan9) November 20, 2022
There's so few women in the crowd it looks like picture from Twitter HQ. #FIFAWorldCup
— Scott Dooley (@scottdools) November 20, 2022
Given that these are the prices for the opening game at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, does seem strange that so many of the crowd have left the stadium pic.twitter.com/OzIdFxIglb
— Kieran Maguire (@KieranMaguire) November 20, 2022
— Arthur Mitchell (@Rhampayge) November 20, 2022
— Mmck (@Mmck09) November 20, 2022
— Keith Mills (@KeithMillsD7) November 20, 2022
Qatar is a disgrace for not letting women have the same freedoms as the men absolutely disgusting #FIFAWorldCup
— Kevyn Witt ⛈🌊 (@KevynWitt) November 20, 2022
Qatar thrashing adds to World Cup headaches for hosts
The first World Cup in the Middle East is a chance for Qatar, a tiny Arab country jutting out into the Persian Gulf, to showcase itself to the wider world.
But its football team, playing at this level for the first time by virtue of hosting the tournament, couldn't live up to the moment as Ecuador captain Enner Valencia scored both goals in the first half.
The widespread scrutiny of the World Cup in Qatar was never going to stop just because the football had begun, but a win for the host nation would have at least put the country in somewhat a favourable light.
Instead, Qatar's players froze in front of an expectant crowd and a disciplined Ecuador team that might just pose a danger to more high-profile opponents over the next few weeks.
Valencia thought he had scored in the third minute when he headed in from close range following an acrobatic cross from Felix Torres. After a video review of about two minutes, Ecuadorian celebrations were cut short when the goal was ruled out for what appeared to be a marginal offside.
Ecuador did take the lead in the 16th minute when Valencia was tripped by Saad Alsheeb after rounding the goalkeeper, who was booked for the challenge. Valencia was nonchalant as he trotted up and converted the spot kick into the bottom corner.
The 33-year-old striker added his second in the 33rd by heading in a right-wing cross from Angelo Preciado. With Qatar's passes often going astray and its defensive raggedness repeatedly exposed, Ecuador had no problem holding onto its lead as Sanchez stood helpless in his technical area and the home fans fell quiet.
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