Hosts Qatar kick off their 2022 World Cup campaign with a match against Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Felix Sanchez’s men defeated the likes of Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Albania in Non-FIFA friendlies, but the game against La Tri will be anything but a walk in the park for the home side. A man to watch in the home team will be Al-Duhail attacker Almoez Ali, who has netted 42 goals in 85 appearances for the national team.
The South American side, on the other hand, played out a goalless draw with Iraq in their last warm-up game, with the team keeping their sixth consecutive clean sheet. Since Qatar are likely to adopt a cautious approach in the World Cup opener, we are tempted to put our money on under 2.5 goals. Leon defender Byron Castillo has been left out of the Ecuador WC squad, while both William Pacho and Kevin Rodriguez were surprisingly cut. Qatar defenders should have Fenerbahce striker Enner Valencia at bay.
Qatar Team News
The Qatari Stars League has effectively been suspended since September to provide Felix Sanchez’s squad with ample preparation time for the nation’s maiden appearance in the World Cup finals.
In Qatar’s final friendly before the curtain-raiser, Akram Afif started on the bench against Albania. The 25-year-old is half of Qatar’s principal attacking duo alongside Almoez Ali (who scored the game’s only goal). It would be a significant shock if Afif did not line up at the Al Bayt this Sunday.
Ecuador Team News
Robert Arboleda played his first match since June in Ecuador’s final pre-World Cup friendly against Iraq last weekend after recovering from a fractured ankle.
Brighton’s Jeremy Sarmiento wasn’t involved while he nurses a muscular problem sustained shortly before the Premier League’s pause this month. Carlos Gruezo is also a doubt after limping out of Augsburg’s defeat to Bochum within the opening half-hour last Saturday.
Match Result Prediction: Ecuador to Win
Despite Qatar’s home advantage, it is Ecuador who is the favourite to triumph in the opening fixture. The fate of this meeting will not be as simple given the inconsistent displays from both sides. A string of draws from each side casts further doubt about their abilities. It is the visitors who have impressed with wins over Cape Verde and Nigeria as they arrive on a six-match winning streak. However, in their only duel with the Maroons, they were humbled 4-3 in Doha. Despite this, the Tricolors have the form and personnel to get over the line against the World Cup hosts.
Anytime Goalscorer Prediction: Akram Afif
Enner Valencia has been alighting the Turkish Süper Lig’in Fenerbahce. His efforts have allowed the Yellow Canaries to contend for the title after spending the recent campaigns out of the title race. However, it will be Akram Afif upon whom all eyes will be set. Afif shone in the last duel between these sides with a hat trick in a winning cause. He has been in devastating form for Al Sadd scoring 16 goals and laying down 19 assists for the reigning QSL champions. He has an intricate knowledge of the stadiums and as the focal point of the Maroons, should get on the scoreboard.
Correct Score Prediction: 1-2 to Ecuador
Based on the current form, the Tricolors have the attacking potency to get over the line. Enner Valencia and Michael Estrada will be leading the lines and should cause enough problems for the Qatari defence which should allow the rest of the unit to trouble the scorers. Akram Afif and co. will not let up, and should have enough in the tank to get on the scoreboard. Our correct score prediction is entrenched in these facts coupled with their prior high-scoring meeting, making us believe a 1-2 result in favour of Ecuador is a likely outcome.
Qatar vs Ecuador Score Prediction
Ecuador serves as politically pliant opposition for Qatar’s opening match of this hotly controversial World Cup. There hasn’t been a whiff of opposition to the myriad of human rights abuses surrounding the competition and Enner Valencia will not be wearing a rainbow-colored armband.
However, Gustavo Alfaro’s side is unlikely to be quite as accommodating on the pitch. Since holding Argentina to a 1-1 draw in March, Ecuador has kept six consecutive clean sheets (against varying opposition) and boasts a potent threat at attacking set pieces.
Qatar has been building towards this tournament for more than a decade and sent the national team into a training camp in September. No World Cup host has ever lost their opening match, a record Qatar may uphold with the eyes of the world on them this weekend.
Prediction: Qatar 0-0 Ecuador