I Wouldn’t Take Chewing Gum From Ronaldo, Jokes Portugal’s Ramos

Portugal’s forward #26 Goncalo Ramos smiles during a press conference at the Shahaniya Sports Club of Al Samriya Autograph Collection Hotel in Al Samriya, northwest of Doha on November 26, 2022 during the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)

 

Portugal players idolise Cristiano Ronaldo, with many saying it is a “dream” to play with him, but young forward Goncalo Ramos joked on Saturday that he wouldn’t accept a piece of chewing gum from his compatriot.

Ronaldo, who scored a penalty in Portugal’s 3-2 win over Ghana, was pictured chewing one he had pulled out of his shorts during the game.

The 37-year-old striker, without a club after an acrimonious split from Manchester United this week, became the first player ever to score at five World Cups.

“Of course not,” laughed Ramos at a press conference, when he was asked if he would take a gum from Ronaldo if offered.

“Not from him or anyone else, only my brother.”

Ramos said that Ronaldo, the top men’s international goalscorer of all time, was someone that other players looked up to in the Portugal dressing room.

“He’s a reference point for everyone,” added Ramos.

“He’s an idol and leads the team but he’s not the only one. We have others like Bruno Fernandes or Pepe, who can also lead and help Cristiano.”

Benfica forward Ramos, 21, appeared as a substitute against Ghana and is looking forward to facing his former team-mate Darwin Nunez when Portugal play Uruguay on Monday.

Nunez moved to Liverpool in the summer for £85 million ($103 million).

“He’s a great player and as well as being my former team-mate, he’s my friend, (but) we’re well prepared to face him,” added Ramos.

Portugal trained on Saturday with 24 of the 26-man squad involved, while Otavio and Nuno Mendes, the latter of whom missed the first game with muscular fatigue, did recovery work in the gym.

AFP

PHOTOS: Top Moments From Day 6 | Qatar 2022

Qatar vs Senegal

 

Qatar’s defender #17 Ismaiel Mohammed reacts to their defeat on the pitch after the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Senegal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

 

Senegal’s forward #09 Boulaye Dia (R) celebrates scoring his team’s first goal with Senegal’s forward #18 Ismaila Sarr (L) during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Senegal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

 

Senegal fans celebrate their win after the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Senegal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

 

Senegal’s forward #19 Famara Diedhiou reacts after the final whistle of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Senegal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP)

 

Senegal’s forward #20 Bamba Dieng (C) fights for the ball with Qatar’s defender #03 Karim Hassan Abdel (L) and Qatar’s midfielder #23 Assim Madibo (R) during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Senegal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

 

Qatar’s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez reacts from the sidelines during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Senegal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP)

Wales vs Iran

Iran’s midfielder #16 Mehdi Torabi and Iran’s defender #15 Roozbeh Cheshmi celebrate their team’s victory during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP)

 

TOPSHOT – Iran’s players celebrate after scoring the opening goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Antonin THUILLIER / AFP)

 

TOPSHOT – Wales’ forward #11 Gareth Bale reacts following his team’s defeat during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

 

Wales’ defender #03 Neco Williams reacts following his team’s defeat during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

 

TOPSHOT – Iran’s fans celebrate at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Fadel Senna / AFP)

 

TOPSHOT – Wales’ goalkeeper #01 Wayne Hennessey flies off his line and collides with Iran’s forward #09 Mehdi Taremi during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

 

Iran’s midfielder #07 Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Iran’s forward #09 Mehdi Taremi, and Iran’s forward #10 Karim Ansarifard applaud the fans during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

Senegal Beat Host Qatar, Record Africa’s First Win

Senegal’s forward #20 Bamba Dieng (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team’s third goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Senegal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 25, 2022. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

 

Senegal defeated host Qatar 1-3 in a Group A match at the 2022 World Cup, becoming the first African side to win a game in the tournament.

The Teranga Lions lost their first match to The Netherlands but bounced back on Friday to revive their qualification hopes.

Goals from Boulaye Dia, Famara Diedhiou, and Bamba Dieng were enough to beat Qatar, who will be eliminated if Group A leaders Netherlands avoid defeat to Ecuador later on Friday.

The defeat left bottom side Qatar sweating on results elsewhere if they are to avoid following South Africa in 2010 as only the second World Cup hosts to bow out after the first round.

Their elimination would be confirmed if Ecuador fail to beat the Netherlands later in the day, and would make Qatar the first World Cup hosts to go out after two games.

Qatar had made a nervy start to the tournament in a 2-0 defeat to Ecuador and they again looked tentative against Senegal.

The Asian champions dropped their goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb to the bench after his shaky performance in the opener.

His replacement Meshaal Barsham did not inspire much confidence in the early stages, flapping at a corner as Senegal pushed for the opening goal.

Ismaila Sarr and Nampalys Mendy had already missed scoring chances for Senegal by then, and Idrissa Gana Gueye and Youssouf Sabaly squandered more as the first half wore on.

Qatar Almost Out

Qatar spent most of the opening 45 minutes on the back foot but a rare break forward saw Akram Afif incensed not to be awarded a penalty after he was bundled over by Sarr.

Senegal looked like they would head into half-time without managing to break down Qatar’s resistance, only for the hosts to gift them a goal in the 41st minute.

Qatari defender Boualem Koukhi fluffed a clearance to leave Dia to pounce on the loose ball and fire it past Barsham.

Senegal doubled their lead almost immediately after the break when Diedhiou glanced home a header at the near post from a corner.

Qatar began to show much more attacking ambition from two goals down and Afif was involved in everything.

Almoez Ali forced a fingertip save out of Senegal goalkeeper Eduoard Mendy before the Chelsea man again rescued the Africans from Isamil Mohamad’s effort.

Mendy was rooted to his line when Muntari pulled one back for Qatar, powerfully heading home Mohamad’s cross to haul the hosts back into it.

The goal lifted the crowd and sent Qatar surging forward in search of another, but Dieng nipped the revival in the bud in the 84th minute when he swept the ball home for Senegal’s third.

Abdelkarim Hassan then lashed a free-kick just wide of the post as Qatar tried to hit back but Senegal held firm to see out the win.

[UPDATED] 2022 W/Cup: After Five Games, Africa Awaits First Win

The last time an African team reached the quarter-final was in 2010 in South Africa. [email protected]/UsherKomugisha

 

After five games, no African team have won a match at the ongoing World Cup in Qatar. All five nations from the continent have only managed two goals.

Ghana became the latest African side to lose a game in the competition after Portugal edged them 3-2 on Thursday.

Hours before that, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon slumped 1-0 to European side Switzerland in a Group G tie.

Five teams are representing the continent in Qatar – Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, and Ghana. All the teams have played a match so far in the Middle East nation.

Although for the first time, all African nations are being coached by home-grown gaffers, the results are so far not going the continent’s way as they push to surpass the quarter-final ceiling in the competition.

Senegal were the first side from Africa to play in Qatar and they lost to The Netherlands in a Group A tie which was followed by Tunisia’s Group D barren draw against Denmark.

In Group F, Morocco held Croatia to another goalless draw.

READ ALSO: Seven Players Of Nigerian Descent Who’d Feature For Other Nations At W/Cup

Overall, African teams have conceded six goals and scored only twice – that was in Ghana’s game.

The recent results, fans fear, may be a foreshadowing of the continent’s performances in the last World Cup.

Four years ago, Africa’s quintet of Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal crashed out in the group stage. Only the Teranga Lions were close to making the round of 16 after garnering four points. They, however, lost the spot to Japan on disciplinary records after accumulating more yellow cards than the Blue Samurai.

Since the competition began, no African side have reached the semi-final. Only three nations – Cameroon, Ghana, and Senegal – have managed something closer by making the last eight of the World Cup.

Cameroon achieved that feat in the 1990 edition, and Senegal did theirs in stunning fashion, beating then-defending champions France in their debut competition en route to the quarter-finals of the 2002 tournament.

Ghana’s Black Stars were the latest nation from Africa to equal that mark when they did so in South Africa twelve years ago.

Morocco, Croatia Share Points After Barren Draw

Croatia and Morocco players tackle each other during their World Cup Group F encounter on Wednesday. Twitter/FIFA

 

Morocco held Croatia to a 0-0 draw in their opening game of the World Cup on Wednesday, producing a spirited display against the 2018 runners-up led by Luka Modric.

Backed by Qatar’s large Moroccan community at the Al Bayt Stadium, the Atlas Lions followed up north African rivals Tunisia’s strong performance against dark horses Denmark a day earlier to frustrate Croatia.

Coach Zlatko Dalic had urged Croatia to exercise caution following Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina, a result Morocco captain Romain Saiss said had “opened the door” for the tournament’s less-fancied teams.

Morocco took the game to a Croatia side featuring four players who started the 2018 final but struggled to create genuine chances against a defence marshalled by the experienced Dejan Lovren.

Azzedine Ounahi strangely opted against shooting when well placed inside the area, with Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi heavily involved down the right without exerting undue pressure on Croatia.

Ivan Perisic fired just over from distance for Croatia after intercepting a dreadful pass from Selim Amallah, while goalkeeper Yassine Bounou blocked well with his legs to deny Nikola Vlasic from close range.

Modric, the former Ballon d’Or winner appearing at his fourth World Cup at the age of 37, then hammered over from the edge of the box.

Morocco lost Noussair Mazraoui early in the second half after his diving header was saved, the Bayern Munich full-back injuring himself when he tumbled awkwardly to the ground.

Sofyan Amrabat poked Lovren’s goal-bound effort away off the line after a scramble at a corner, while Hakimi’s free-kick at the other end was beaten to safety by Croatian keeper Dominik Livakovic.

Only once have Morocco gone beyond the group stage, in 1986, but they will rate their chances of advancing with games to come against an ageing Belgium team and Group F outsiders Canada.

Croatia pushed for a late winner but found Morocco’s defence in unforgiving mood as Walid Regragui’s side secured a valuable and deserved point.

AFP

Saka And Bellingham Sparkle As Ruthless England Crush Iran

England’s forward #17 Bukayo Saka (C) celebrates with teammates after he scored during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on November 21, 2022. (Photo by Fadel Senna / AFP)

 

England made a scintillating start to their World Cup campaign as Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham inspired a 6-2 rout of outclassed Iran in Monday’s Group B opener in Doha.

Saka and Bellingham were England’s driving forces with dynamic displays that underlined their emergence as two of the game’s brightest young stars.

Bellingham, 19, shattered Iran’s hopes of frustrating England when he rose to head his maiden senior international goal in the first half.

Gareth Southgate’s side were in sparkling form at the Khalifa International Stadium and goals from Saka and Raheem Sterling put them in complete control before half-time.

Saka, 21, netted again after the interval and, although Mehdi Taremi struck twice for Iran, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish completed the demolition.

There will be far sterner tests to come for England as they bid to win their first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.

But this was a welcome step in the right direction for Southgate, whose team arrived in Qatar on a six-match winless run that triggered scathing criticism of the Three Lions boss and his perceived negative tactics.

The only concern for Southgate was the sight of Harry Maguire being replaced in the second half after being checked for a potential head injury.

England play their second match against the United States on Friday and conclude their Group B fixtures against Wales on November 29.

Just hours before kick-off, England revealed captain Harry Kane would not wear a rainbow-themed ‘One Love’ armband after the Football Association and several other European countries dropped their campaign in support of LGBTQ rights.

Because the armband was not a FIFA-approved piece of kit, it was reported any player wearing it would be booked — a risk England were apparently unwilling to take.

The match also took place against the background of turmoil in Iran after months of female-led demonstrations sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman of Kurdish origin who was arrested by the morality police in Tehran.

Iran’s players refused to sing their national anthem in apparent support for anti-government protesters.

READ ALSOWorld Cup Fans ‘Can Survive’ Without Beer – FIFA Chief

Sublime Saka 

Having reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 before losing to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, England are desperate to take the last step to silverware in Doha.

Southgate had urged his team “play on the front foot” and they responded in style, after initially finding their rhythm disrupted by a long delay when Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand smashed into team-mate Majid Hosseini.

Despite being in no state to continue amid fears of a concussion, the bloodied Beiranvand played on before finally being substituted.

England eventually penned Iran deep inside their own half and Bellingham delivered in the 35th minute.

Sterling found Luke Shaw on the left flank and his cross was perfectly weighted for Bellingham, who looped a fine header into the far corner.

Playing for Birmingham in the Championship just two years ago, the Borussia Dortmund star’s goal made him England’s second youngest scorer at a World Cup behind Michael Owen.

Eight minutes later another of England’s gifted prodigies doubled the lead.

Maguire headed down a corner and Arsenal forward Saka swivelled to lash a superb left-foot finish into the top corner.

Sterling put the result beyond doubt with his first goal at a World Cup in first-half stoppage time.

Bellingham fed Kane, whose pin-point cross was volleyed home by Sterling with the outside of his boot.

Saka made it four in the 62nd minute when he shuffled across the Iran area before stroking his shot past Hossein Hosseini.

Taremi fired into the roof of the net to reduce the deficit three minutes later.

Rashford’s cool finish in the 71st minute, 49 seconds after he came on, was followed by Grealish’s 90th-minute tap-in.

Taremi struck from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game after a shirt pull by John Stones, but the margin of victory reflected England’s total dominance.

AFP

‘Respect People’s Traditions’: Peterside Idah Backs Qatar’s Ban On Beer

Peterside Idah
Peterside Idah is a former Nigerian goalkeeper.

 

A former Super Eagles goalkeeper Peterside Idah has backed Qatar’s ban on alcohol in stadiums at the ongoing World Cup. 

Hours before the kickoff, Qatari authorities banned the sales of beer around stadiums, prompting a wave of backlash.

But Peterside has backed the move, saying fans and the football world, in general, should respect other people’s culture.

“So, we should just respect people’s traditions and culture,” he said while featuring on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Monday, hours after the first game of the 2022 World Cup was played.

READ ALSO: World Cup Fans ‘Can Survive’ Without Beer – FIFA Chief

The television pundit accused the West of painting Qatar badly because they are not hosting the tournament, recalling that they were similar fears about South Africa’s hosting of the competition in 2010.

“When we hosted in South Africa, it was the same thing. They said lions would eat people; people would be robbed and heads will be cut off. They always have something to say. I just think they should calm down and let’s watch football.”

Having traveled to several countries including Russia where the last edition of the World Cup was played, he argued that the fears about non-Western countries hosting the tournament are exaggerated.

“The Western world would always want to paint every other country wrong if they are not hosting,” the 47-year-old added. “You remember that Qatar beat the UK and US to host, so they are so bitter and angry!”

As far as he is concerned, fans who want to drink beer should do that after the games and respect the traditions of the host nation.

‘Just Tagging Along’

While the Super Eagles are not in the competition, Peterside said the only difference that makes is that football fans in Nigeria would be watching the tournament with their “heads and not their hearts”.

“If your team qualifies, you watch with your heart. If your team does not qualify, you watch with your head. That is the difference. There is no heart. Whoever wins, it rarely doesn’t matter,” the sports analyst noted.

“But as a football person, you just want to enjoy the ambiance; enjoy the World Cup; enjoy the scenario and the vibes of the World Cup. We are just tagging along.”

Qatar Become First World Cup Hosts To Lose Opener With Ecuador Defeat

Qatar players leave the pitch after they lost the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match to Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

 

Qatar became the first home team to lose their opening World Cup match as Ecuador cruised to a 2-0 victory over the hosts, with Enner Valencia scoring twice in the tournament curtain-raiser on Sunday.

Asian champions Qatar enjoyed the backing of the 67,000-strong crowd Al Bayt Stadium, but could not follow a glitzy opening ceremony with a statement performance.

Ecuador thought they had made a dream start when Valencia headed in in the third minute, only for the goal to be ruled out by VAR for an offside in the build-up.

It was only a brief reprieve for Qatar, with Valencia putting the South American side ahead from the penalty spot in the 16th minute before doubling his tally just after the half-hour mark.

Qatar improved in the second period, but by the end of the 90 minutes the buzz of the opening ceremony was a distant memory.

“Our nerves betrayed us, we started really badly,” said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez. “We were unable to string together four passes in a row.”

Qatar will likely need to avoid defeat in their second Group A match against Senegal on Friday just to prevent the ignominy of becoming only the second hosts, after South Africa in 2010, to be dumped out in the first round.

Hopes were high among the crowd that Qatar could make a winning start, but the deficiencies of the World Cup debutants were ruthlessly exposed by an impressive Ecuador.

“It was a day we all dreamed of,” said Ecuador left-back Pervis Estupinan. “We are all very proud. We all know what an incredible captain we have with Enner Valencia.”

Qatar failed even to muster a shot on target in the game, with spectators filing out of the stands long before the final whistle.

READ ALSO: Empty Seats Tell Story As Qatar World Cup Party Falls Flat

VAR

The South Americans had the ball in the net inside three minutes when captain Valencia nodded home from Felix Torres’s miscued overhead kick.

VAR officials spotted an offside against Michael Estrada in the build-up after Torres challenged for the ball with Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.

Ecuador were completely dominant in the early exchanges and were awarded a penalty after Valencia was tripped by Al Sheeb when through on goal.

The former West Ham forward coolly sent Al Sheeb the wrong way from the spot, stroking the ball into the bottom corner.

Ecuador did not have to wait long to double their advantage. After a surging run from Moises Caicedo, right-back Angelo Preciado swung in a cross which Valencia met with a thumping header.

Even the small section of noticeably enthusiastic Qatari fans behind the goal, who arrived later than most of the crowd and wore matching T-shirts, briefly fell silent.

Almoez Ali, the hero of Qatar’s 2019 Asian Cup success, should have pulled one back on the stroke of half-time but could only steer a free header wide from eight yards out.

Ecuador allowed Qatar more of the ball after the break but still looked the more dangerous side, with Romario Ibarra bringing a diving save from Al Sheeb.

Valencia hobbled off in the 77th minute after being on the wrong end of a series of heavy challenges.

“I hope to be ready (for Friday’s game against the Netherlands),” said the forward after taking knocks to his knee and ankle.

By the time the official attendance of around 67,000 was read out over the tannoy, the stadium was barely half full.

AFP

Empty Seats Tell Story As Qatar World Cup Party Falls Flat

Workers clean seats at the Al-Bayt Stadium in al-Khor on November 12, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE STORY: Workers clean seats at the Al-Bayt Stadium in al-Khor on November 12, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

 

Thousands of empty seats told the sad story as Qatar’s long-awaited World Cup debut ended in a bad case of stage fright on Sunday.

Long before the final whistle at the spectacular Bedouin tent-inspired Al Bayt Stadium, the host nation’s fans among the 67,372 crowd had started heading for the exits.

The exodus began soon after Ecuador striker Enner Valencia headed his second goal shortly after the half-hour mark against the outclassed World Cup hosts.

As the second half wore on, swathes of unfilled seats could be seen throughout the arena as an evening that began with joyous celebrations and heady optimism ended with a whimper.

The downbeat finale was in stark contrast to the mood in the hours before kick-off at the stadium in Al Khor, 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Qatar’s capital Doha.

Thousands of people arrived at the vast Lusail train station where the subway line built especially for this tournament at a cost of $36 billion ends and spectators boarded a fleet of buses for the final leg of their journey.

The security forces appeared tense, aware that the eyes of the world are on this Gulf state, which many critics say should never have been awarded the World Cup.

Once the spectators arrived at the spectacular venue, camels and horses lined the road to the turnstiles.

Carlos Alvear, an Ecuadoran who lives in Ecuador, said: “It’s really special to be here. It’s the first World Cup in the Middle East, it’s historic and Ecuador is here for the opening match.

“To be honest, it’s all a bit bizarre. It’s pretty quiet, even if there are more Ecuadorans than I thought there would be. But all these buildings look pretty empty.”

– ‘Trust in our team’ –

For a Qatari supporter who gave his name only as Abdallah, it was an exciting moment.

“We have been waiting for this moment for 12 years,” he said. “We have every confidence for this festival…. We trust in our team. We have ambition but are realistic.”

He was confident of victory against the South Americans and predicted his team would be runners-up in their group and go through to the next round — where England could await.

“Today we will win, but we will be second behind the Netherlands. Then against England, we will win,” he said with a smile.

Danny, a supporter from the English city of Norwich, said he planned to “jump on the bandwagon today” and support Qatar.

His friend who gave his name only as Abdul, from Sheffield in northern England, had brought a Qatari flag and was wearing a red top under his England shirt in case Qatar scored.

Danny was staying in the shipping container accommodation set up for visiting supporters for two weeks and said it “isn’t quite what he was expecting”.

Away from the opening match, thousands of Mexican and Argentine fans thronged the Corniche seafront promenade in the centre of Doha.

Leopold Fes, a 65-year-old Belgian, said he was finding it difficult to accept the last-minute decision to ban the sale of alcohol at stadiums in the strict Islamic state.

“I don’t think it will be like other World Cups,” he said. “No alcohol makes it strange. Football and alcohol go together for a lot of people.”

AFP

World Cup Kicks Off In Qatar After Troubled Buildup

Ecuador supporters cheer ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)
Ecuador supporters cheer ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

 

The World Cup kicked off in Qatar on Sunday as the month-long football showpiece finally got under way after a tortuous 12-year build-up dogged by off-field controversies.

Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thami was present in the impressive Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, 50 kilometres (31 miles) outside of Doha, to watch the host nation face Ecuador.

In a breathless start to the match in the stadium shaped like a Bedouin tent, Ecuador’s Enner Valenica headed the ball into the net after three minutes but the goal was disallowed for offside.

Thirteen minutes later, Ecuador did take the lead after Valencia dribbled round Qatari goalkeeper Saad Alsheeb who grabbed his shin and the referee pointed to the spot and Valencia coolly rolled home the penalty.

Valencia added a second goal to give Ecuador a 2-0 lead in the 31st minute.

Ecuador’s forward #13 Enner Valencia (L) scores a penalty during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

 

The Al Bayt venue is one of an array of new stadiums built for the tournament, which has cost Qatar an estimated $200 billion, the most expensive World Cup in history.

South Korean K-pop star Jung Kook headlined the 30-minute opening ceremony.

The list of foreign dignitaries included Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who orchestrated a regional blockade of Qatar in 2017. FIFA president Gianni Infantino sat next to the Saudi leader.

Criticism 

World Cup organisers hope the start of the football will quell the controversies that have overshadowed preparations for the tournament ever since Qatar was named as host nation in a shock FIFA vote in 2010.

Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and the Gulf state’s human rights record have dominated the pre-tournament headlines.

On Saturday, Infantino went on the offensive in an aggressive rebuttal of the opprobrium aimed at the event, arguing that much of the criticism was unfair.

“This moral lesson-giving — one-sided — is just hypocrisy,” Infantino said.

“I don’t want to give you any lessons of life, but what is going on here is profoundly, profoundly unjust.”

Controversies look certain to rumble on into the tournament even after the action starts.

Several European nations taking part — including England, Germany and Denmark — have said their players will wear rainbow-coloured “OneLove” armbands in a gesture of solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.

The move raises the prospect of disciplinary action from FIFA, which has revealed plans to make its own alternative armbands available to teams.

Infantino insisted that all World Cup visitors would be welcome regardless of sexual orientation.

“I’ve been speaking about this topic with the highest leadership,” he said. “They can confirm that I can confirm that everyone is welcome.”

Benzema blow, Brazil arrive 

Five-time champions Brazil the last to touch down in Doha late on Saturday.

Defending champions France suffered another injury hammer blow early Sunday after confirmation that star striker and Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema had been forced out of the tournament with injury.

The Real Madrid star limped out of a training session at the French camp on Saturday evening with a left thigh injury.

The French federation later confirmed in a statement that the 34-year-old would require “a recovery period of three weeks” and would play no part in the competition.

“I am extremely sad for Karim, for whom this World Cup was a major objective,” said France coach Didier Deschamps, who has decided not to replace the forward.

“Despite this new blow for the France team I have full faith in my squad. We will do all we can to rise to the huge challenge that awaits us.”

Benzema’s withdrawal comes with France already battling the injury absence of star midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.

Belgium are also reeling from an injury blow after striker Romelu Lukaku was ruled out of the Red Devils’ opening two games as he continues to recover from a hamstring problem.

AFP

Ecuador’s Valencia Scores First Goal Of 2022 World Cup

Ecuador's forward Enner Valencia (L) scores his team's first goal from the penalty spot during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)
Ecuador’s forward Enner Valencia (L) scores his team’s first goal from the penalty spot during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

 

Ecuador striker Enner Valencia stroked home a 16th-minute penalty to score the first goal of the 2022 World Cup on Sunday.

Valencia coolly converted from the spot to put Ecuador 1-0 up against hosts Qatar after an incident-packed start to the tournament.

Minutes earlier, Valencia had seen what looked like an opening goal disallowed for a controversial offside following an intervention by VAR.

World Cup Hosts Qatar Lose 2-0 To Ecuador In Tournament Opener

Ecuador's forward Enner Valencia (L) scores his team's first goal from the penalty spot during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)
Ecuador’s forward Enner Valencia (L) scores his team’s first goal from the penalty spot during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

 

Qatar became the first home team to lose their opening World Cup match as Ecuador cruised to a 2-0 victory over the hosts, with Enner Valencia scoring twice in the tournament curtain-raiser on Sunday.

Asian champions Qatar enjoyed the backing of the majority of the crowd at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium, but could not follow a glitzy opening ceremony with a statement performance.

Ecuador thought they had made a dream start when they silenced the home fans as Valencia headed in, only for the goal to be ruled out by VAR for an offside in the build-up.

Valencia did break the deadlock with a penalty in the 16th minute and doubled his tally just after the half-hour mark.

Qatar improved slightly in the second period, but by the end of the 90 minutes, the excitement which greeted the build-up — featuring Morgan Freeman and BTS star Jung Kook — was a distant memory as thousands of fans left early amid a deflated atmosphere.

Felix Sanchez’s Qatar will likely need a positive result in their second Group A match against Senegal on Friday just to avoid the ignominy of becoming only the second hosts, after South Africa in 2010, to be dumped out in the first round.

Hopes were high among the crowd that Qatar could make a winning start, but the deficiencies of the World Cup debutants were ruthlessly exposed by an impressive Ecuador.

Qatar failed to even muster a shot on target in the game, with spectators filing out of the stands long before the final whistle.

In the 92-year history of the tournament, home countries had previously won 16 and drawn six of their opening matches.

Early VAR intervention

The South Americans had the ball in the net inside three minutes when captain Valencia nodded home from Felix Torres’ miscued overhead kick.

VAR officials spotted an offside against Michael Estrada in the build-up after Torres challenged for the ball with Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.

Ecuador were completely dominant in the early exchanges, though, and were awarded a penalty after Valencia was tripped by Al Sheeb when through on goal.

The former West Ham forward coolly sent Al Sheeb the wrong way from the spot and stroked the ball into the bottom corner to score his 36th international goal.

Ecuador did not have to wait long to double their advantage as, after a surging run from Moises Caicedo, right-back Angelo Preciado swung in a cross which Valencia met with a thumping header.

Even the small section of noticeably enthusiastic Qatari fans situated behind the goal, who arrived together after the majority of the crowd and wore matching t-shirts, briefly fell silent.

Almoez Ali, the hero of Qatar’s 2019 Asian Cup success, should have pulled one back on the stroke of half-time but could only steer a free header wide from eight yards out.

Ecuador allowed Qatar more of the ball after the break but still looked the more dangerous side, with Romario Ibarra bringing a diving save from Al Sheeb.

Valencia hobbled off in the 77th minute after being on the wrong end of a series of heavy challenges, although that would only have taken some of the shine off a famous night for Ecuador.

By the time an official attendance of 67,372 was read out over the tannoy, the stadium was barely half full.

AFP