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Winners & Losers

Qatar outclassed! Winners and losers as Ecuador's Enner Valencia leaves hosts facing early elimination

10:30 PM GMT+4 20/11/2022
Ecuador Qatar GFX
The opening game of the 2022 World Cup may have only finished 2-0, but the gulf in class between the two sides was glaring

After all of the hype and controversy, the opening night of Qatar 2022 ultimately fell flat. At least from the hosts' perspective, with fans leaving their seats long before the full-time whistle.

Felix Sanchez's side may only have been beaten 2-0 but they failed to register a single shot on target against Ecuador and the gulf in class between the two sides was painfully evident during a particularly one-sided first half.

Enner Valencia was the star of the show, scoring twice – once from the penalty spot, and then with a stunning header.

So, after becoming the first host nation in World Cup history to lose their opening fixture, Qatar have it all to do to avoid the ignominy of a first-round exit.

Meanwhile, Ecuador, with their solid 4-4-2 and clinical captain, look like a well-drilled side capable of equalling their best-ever World Cup showing: a last-16 finish at Germany 2006.

GOAL runs through all of the winners and losers from the tournament-opener...

  • Morgan Freeman World Cup

    LOSER: Morgan Freeman

    Pretty much everybody likes Morgan Freeman. The man's a legend of cinema. His appearance in the opening ceremony, then, was greeted by a massive roar inside the stadium.

    Nobody knew beforehand that he would be participating, but he lent his velvet voice to a monologue about inclusion and unity, which was all very well-meaning.

    Except it actually appeared as if Freeman's soothing tones had been pre-recorded. We fully expected some lip-syncing from BTS star Jung Kook, but not one of the finest actors of all time!

    One can also be sure that many Americans did not appreciate the sight of one of the backers of the US bid to host the 2022 World Cup playing such a starring role in the opening ceremony for Qatar 2022...

  • Enner Valencia Ecuador 2022

    WINNER: Enner Valencia

    It's fair to say that the Premier League didn't see the best of Enner Valencia. He managed just 11 goals across three seasons in England, with West Ham and Everton (on loan).

    However, his heroics here won't have come as a surprise to Super Lig supporters, given he's been averaging nearly a goal every two games for Fenerbahce for the past couple of years.

    Still, this was an outstanding display, with Valencia absolutely tormenting the Qatari centre-backs, who quickly realised that the only chance they had of stopping him was fouling him.

    It didn't work, though. Despite the rough treatment, Valencia remained the coolest man in the stadium, showing impressive composure in rolling home a penalty to open the scoring and then doubling his tally with a wonderfully well-executed header.

    All of that means that the 33-year-old is no longer just his nation's all-time leading marksman, he's also their top scorer in World Cup history, having now netted their last five goals at the tournament – making him the first South American to ever achieve such a feat.

    If Valencia recovers from the battering he took against Qatar – he was eventually forced off with ankle and knee knocks – the World Cup might just have an unlikely Golden Boot contender...

  • Saad Al Sheeb Qatar 2022

    LOSER: Saad Al Sheeb

    If there was one thing Qatar needed in their first-ever World Cup game, it was a stellar performance from their goalkeeper.

    What they got was an Al Sheeb horror-show, one that must have shattered the confidence of players that would have been feeling nervous anyway ahead of their tournament debuts.

    Al Sheeb conceded inside three minutes, after twice making a mess of trying to claim a ball in his area, but was blessed to see the goal disallowed by the VAR for the most marginal of offside calls.

    However, there would be no reprieve when he blatantly took down Valencia just over 10 minutes later. It came as no surprise the see the hapless Al Sheeb go the wrong way for the subsequent spot-kick.

    One can be certain that Netherlands and Senegal's strikers will be looking forward to piling further pressure on Qatar's No.1...

  • Gustavo Alfaro Ecuador 2022

    WINNER: Gustavo Alfaro

    Gustavo Alfaro took over an Ecuadorian national team in total disarray. Indeed, the situation was so bad that several key players had lost all interest in representing their country.

    Alfaro, though, not only re-energised the disillusioned veterans, he also rejuvenated the squad, bringing in several members of Ecuador's exciting Under-20s. The results speak for themselves.

    Just qualifying was considered an outstanding achievement, but by outclassing Qatar, and racking up a seventh successive clean sheet, Ecuador have now put themselves in the perfect position to pip Netherlands or a Sadio Mane-less Senegal to a place in the last 16.

    Do that, and Alfaro will get the global recognition his work with Ecuador already merits.

  • Almoez Ali Qatar 2022

    LOSER: Qatar's qualification hopes

    Felix Sanchez admitted beforehand that the first game was absolutely pivotal to the hosts' hopes of progress. And they've lost it. Badly. Which does not bode well.

    They still have two games to go, of course, but they're against dark horses Netherlands and African champions Senegal. On the evidence of what we saw on opening night, Qatar have no chance of beating either.

    They've already become the first host nation to lose their opening game and they now face the embarrassing prospect of becoming the first to exit at the group stage without winning a game.

    That would be a calamitous outcome for a state that fought so hard to host the tournament, and the huge amount of empty seats we saw appear during the second half were arguably even more damaging to Qatar's image as a footballing nation than the 2-0 loss on the night.