Who: Qatar v Ecuador, Group A
Where: Al Bayt Stadium
When: Sunday, November 20, 7pm (16:00 GMT)
FIFA ranking: Qatar (50), Ecuador (44)
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will kick off on Sunday with a clash between the hosts and Ecuador.
The opening match and ceremony of the showpiece tournament, 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 brought forward by a day to keep with the tradition of the host nation opening the competition.
Once ranked 113th in the world, Qatar’s 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 Asian Cup win in 2019.
The team also made a semi-final appearance at last year’s Gold Cup of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football as a guest nation.
This will be Qatar’s first appearance at a World Cup.
Led by Spanish coach Felix Sanchez, the Maroons hope to make it to the next round from a group that also includes European giants the Netherlands and African champions Senegal.
“It’s three games, and we know the level of our opponent,” Sanchez told reporters on Saturday. “Due to their history, their individual talent, their careers where they play, they are ahead of us.
“On paper, they should get the three points. Maybe they count on the three points already. But we are here to show 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 kickoff, returning from an extensive training camp in Marbella, Spain.
“We want to show the results of all of our hard work. God willing, we will perform much better than any game before,” Qatar captain Hassan Al Haydos told the pre-match news conference.
The player to watch is tricky left-winger Akram Afif. The 25-year-old, who plays for Qatari side Al Sadd, was named Asian footballer of the year in 2019 after his one goal and 10 assists led Qatar to the continental trophy.
Even with home advantage, Qatar will not find it easy to overcome Ecuador.
With an average age of 25, the team nicknamed La Tri were 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 smashed Colombia 6-1, beat Uruguay, took four points against Chile and drew with the 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 provides balance and defensive solidity to the young team.
If the Maroons are to pick any points against the La Tri, they will have to nullify his effective passing and penetrating runs.
Also keep an eye out for Gonzalo Plata, an exciting winger who plays for Real Valladolid in Spain.
Led by Argentinian Gustavo Alfaro, who often favours the 4-4-2 formation, La Tri will be looking to better their best-ever finish at a World Cup, when they reached the round of 16 in 2006.