Enner Valencia celebrates one of his goals. (Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports)
Ecuador started with a bang, Qatar with a whimper in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup.
Behind a first-half surge, the South Americans struck twice in the opening 31 minutes and had a third goal called back as they registered a 2-0 victory over the host side on Sunday.
Enner Valencia bagged a brace for Ecuador. He also had a close-range header in the third minute nullified due to an offside infraction before 67,372 fans at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Kohr, Qatar.
Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb endured a nightmare opening half hour as his poor decision making and a foul in the box led to shaky defensive plays by the hosts and Ecuador’s two goals.
Al Sheeb took down an Ecuadorian player in the penalty area and Valencia slotted the ball into the lower right corner of the net as the keeper dove in the opposite direction for a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute.
Valencia’s 31st-minute header boosted the South American side into the lead.
Qatar looked overwhelmed by the occasion as Ecuador continuously attacked in the opening half. The hosts regained their composure in the second half and managed to play a few shots toward the net. Mohammed Muntari had perhaps Qatar’s closest scoring opportunity, firing an attempt just over the crossbar in the waning minutes.
The defeat put Qatar, the Asian champions, in jeopardy of failing to reach the knockout round. Only one host country did not qualify for the second round, which was South Africa in 2010.
Qatar is the first Middle Eastern country to host a World Cup.