Patrick Kelechi, Lagos
The long wait is almost over as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is just few hours from kickoff with millions of fans set for the most exciting and intriguing moments of the tournament, starting with the opening ceremony at the Al Bayt Stadium.
Before 2022, the World Cup has never been played in the winter season. The global showpiece has also never been hosted in the Middle East.
So, when the host Qatar kicks-off the competition against Ecuador this weekend, it will be a ride football fans and pundits have never experienced.
Interestingly, the opening ceremony was supposed to take place before Qatar’s first game on Monday, which would have resulted in the uncommon circumstance of two games taking place before it. The first game in Qatar was then moved up by a day.
The 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium, located 40 kilometres north of Doha, will host the opening ceremony. The Al Bayt Stadium, which is the most remote but also one of the largest venues from central Doha, is named after and modelled after the nomadic tents used in the Gulf. It also has a retractable roof.
The stadium was one of seven stadiums built for the tournament and opened in November 2021. It hosted the opening match of the 2021 Arab Cup between Qatar and Bahrain.
The Al Bayt Stadium will host six group games, a Round of 16 clash and a semi-final at the 2022 World Cup.
The tournament’s official anthem and soundtrack will be played and La’eeb, the tournament’s mascot, will make an appearance.
The Big Game
The FIFA World Cup 2022 is here, and the month-long extravaganza begins in Al Khor on Sunday. There has been a lot of controversy over the latest edition of the World Cup. But all that will likely become white noise when Qatar and Ecuador face off at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday evening.
Qatar, the hosts and the only debutant among the 32 participants has spent 12 years preparing for the FIFA World Cup 2022. Felix Sanchez Bas led Qatar to its most historic milestone: winning the Asian Cup in 2019.
He earlier claimed that trying to take the lead while also trying to compete would be “suicide” for Qatar.
According to him, the squad would strive to play a defensively compact game, give up as few opportunities as possible and be powerful in transitions.
Qatar and Ecuador are the two lowest-ranked teams in Group A. Both therefore need a result on the opening day to take into difficult matches against Senegal and the Netherlands.
Four points could be enough to secure a route to the knockout stages. A draw, however, would leave both sides needing to upset the odds by defeating either the Netherlands, who are ranked eighth in the world by FIFA, or Senegal, the reigning African champions.
The three previous meetings between Qatar and Ecuador all took place in the Middle-Eastern nation itself. The Qatar vs Ecuador head-to-head record was evenly split with one win each and one draw. In their previous meeting, which was a friendly in October 2018, Qatar won 4-3.
Qatar have some promising players like goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb, forward Hassan Al-Haydos and striker Almoez Ali. Ecuador, on the other hand, have players like Pervis Estupinan (left-back), Moises Caicedo (midfielder) and Enner Valencia (forward).
Qatar (5-4-1): Al Sheeb, Hassan, Al-Rawi, Miguel, Salman, Ahmed; Al-Haydos, Boudiaf, Hatem, Afif; Ali.
Ecuador (4-3-3): Dominguez, [Angelo] Preciado, Torres, Hincapie, Estupinian; Gruezo, Cifuentes, Caicedo; Mena, Valencia, Plata.