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2022 World Cup: Heartbreak follows message of harmony

Action on field though did not go according to the wish of host nation as they lost to Ecuador 0-2
Enner Valencia (left) of Ecuador heads to score his side’s second goal during the World Cup Group A match against Qatar at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday.
Enner Valencia (left) of Ecuador heads to score his side’s second goal during the World Cup Group A match against Qatar at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday.
Getty Images

Angshuman Roy   |   Al Khor   |   Published 21.11.22, 02:50 AM

The Al Bayt Stadium was in the zone on Sunday. When Qatar’s national anthem was played and the stadium stood up and sang in unison, the first thing that came to mind was the 2022 World Cup slogan “Now is all”.

The slogan means to focus on the present and to move on from the past. As the actor Morgan Freeman, who opened the ceremony with a message of inclusion, said: “This is a call to the whole world. Soccer brings people and nations together. There is a common thread of hope and respect. Soccer expands the world, it unites nations in their love for this precious game.”

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The action on the field though did not go according to the wish of the host nation as they lost to Ecuador 0-2. Two first-half goals from veteran striker Enner Valencia meant Qatar became the first host nation to suffer an opening game defeat in the tournament’s history.

Still it was Qatar’s day, it was a moment of pride for all the Gulf countries. As the names of the Qatar players like Saad Al-Sheeb, Pedro Miguel, Bassam Alrawi were announced, the majority of the 67,372 fans roared.

And, at that very moment, they froze.

Just after 158 seconds, Valencia, the Ecuador captain, headed in after a nervous AlSheeb flapped at the ball in a melee. As the handful of Ecuador fans behind the goal celebrated, the giant screens flashed that the goal had been disallowed for offside, by a fraction.

But the reprieve was shortlived. The Ecuadorians ran Qatar ragged and the first goal of the tournament came in the 16th minute. Goalkeeper AlSheeb brought down Valencia and referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the spot. Valencia, as calm as one can be, made it 1-0 wrong-footing the goalkeeper.

The second came 15 minutes later. A centre from the right and Valencia rose to head it home past Al-Sheeb.

The South Americans coasted for much of the game, saving their energy for more exacting challenges to come. By the end, the stadium was almost empty, save for a few thousand jubilant Ecuadoreans. Many of the home fans had left long before, drifting away into the night.

Patches of red seats were clearly visible around the stadium where earlier men in pristine white thobes and women in black abayas had once been sitting. Outside the stadium, Ahmed al Moslemani and his friend Abdulaziz Al Ashgar were among those who called it a night early; they had headed toward their car before the referee restarted the second half.

“We are exhausted,” said Al Moslemani, explaining that he had to leave his home extra early so he could arrive at the Al Bayt stadium ahead of the afternoon opening ceremony, which began at 5.30pm local time. Besides, he said, he was hungry and the food and beverage offerings inside the arena were thin.

With inputs from NYTNS



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