World Cup First Day – High Odds On Favourites
World Cup Opening Game Preview: Qatar v Ecuador
A lot has been said about the Qatar World Cup over the past decade – there is a four-part limited series on Netflix that addresses some of it – but hopefully, when the whistle blows on Sunday to signal the start of the 22nd edition of the beautiful game’s premier tournament, we get to witness a memorable and exciting World Cup. Since the last World Cup in 2018, the world has had its own share of battles, the deadliest of which was the global pandemic in 2020. It’s safe to say that for overcoming that, we’ve earned ourselves a great tournament.
It’s been four years since France lifted the World Cup in 2018 and with a team boasting Kylian Mbappé and the newly crowned Ballon d’Or winner, Karim Benzema, they’ll be hoping to avoid the winner’s curse that has plagued this tournament’s champions in recent memory. After Italy won the World Cup in 2006, they suffered a humiliating group stage exit in South Africa 2010 while the 2010 Champions, Spain, suffered an equally embarrassing group stage exit in 2014. The 2014 champions, Germany followed that up with a group stage exit of their own in 2018 and current champions, France will be hoping to break this cycle that they started when – as reigning champions – they exited the group stage of the Korea/Japan World Cup exactly 20 years ago.
The Brazilians are favourites to win the FIFA World Cup this year and looking at their squad, that has the likes of Neymar Jr. Casemiro, Alisson & Vinicius Jr., it’s easy to see why. The five-time champions have failed to finish in the top three of the last four World Cups, their longest of such streak. However, their 25-game unbeaten run is the second best coming into this tournament behind Argentina (36-games unbeaten) which should fill them with confidence. Of course, with 7-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, the Argentines will have a chance as well, after winning the Copa America last year – their first major title since 1993.
The English aren’t left out of this. After reaching the semi-finals of Russia 2018 and the finals of EURO 2020, they’ll be hoping to complete the next step of this gradual process by being crowned World Champions for the 2nd time in their history. Harry Kane who won the Golden Boot in 2018 is the favourite to repeat it this year, and you can bet on that here. There’s also Portugal and their captain, Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s been unhappy with life at Manchester United back in the Premier League, but always puts on a smile when he’s with the National team. Despite the injury to Diogo Jota, they still have some top talents like Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and João Cancelo.
This World Cup will also feature some of the brightest young talents in the world, and we cannot wait to see them. Over the past 21 editions of this tournament, young players like Pelé, Michael Owen, Thomas Müller & Kylian Mbappé have left the world in awe with their mesmerising talents and this year will be no different. Young players like Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Pedri, Xavi & Jamal Musiala are all set to shine for their respective countries, and you can read all about that here.
Qatar v Ecuador
For the hosts, Qatar, their investment in football has paid off handsomely. Since being awarded the World Cup back in 2010, they’ve risen from #113 in the FIFA Ranking to as high as #42 and they’re currently ranked #50. In this period, they’ve won their first-ever Asian Cup title (in 2019) and made the semis of the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. In the 2019 Asian Cup, they won all seven games and kept an astonishing 6 clean sheets, scoring 19 goals and conceding just once. Their run to the title included victories over Asian heavyweights Japan and South Korea, which makes it more impressive. The entire squad plays their club football in Qatar so while they might not have players playing at the highest level (in Europe or in South America), they have a strong chemistry due to their familiarity with each other. One player Ecuador would want to keep an eye on is Al Sadd’s Akram Afif who won the Asian Footballer of the Year award in 2019. He’s a dual-threat winger and, back in 2020, led the Qatar Stars League in both Goals & Assists as Al Sadd won the league title as well as the Qatar Cup & the Emir Cup.
The Ecuadorians finished 4th in the CONMEBOL Qualifiers with the second-best attack, scoring as many goals (27) as Argentina. They only lost once at home and drew with both Brazil & Argentina. One of the main reasons for their success is former Boca Juniors manager Gustavo Alfaro who has a lot of experience. Ecuador has a few players who could cause some problems to the opposition. Enner Valencia, who currently plays for Fenerbahçe, Brighton & Hove’s Moisés Caicedo who is a bright young midfielder and Michael Estrada who led the team in scoring in the Qualifiers with 6 goals – just one behind Lionel Messi.
Qatar: Almoez Ali – Won Golden Boots in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup & 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Ecuador: Gonzalo Plata – Over in Spain, the winger helped Valladolid gain promotion to La Liga last season and, at the age of just 21, has an impressive 28 caps and 5 goals for the national team.
- Qatar and Ecuador have met three times with all three matches taking place in Qatar. Their head-to-head record is perfectly balanced with one win each and one draw (6 goals each). Their last encounter saw Qatar win 4-3 in a friendly in October 2018.
- Qatar have won all three of their previous matches played at the Al Bayt Stadium with an aggregate score of 9-0.
- Qatar are hoping to be the first World Cup debutant to win their first ever match at the tournament since Senegal beat defending champions France in the opening game of the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002 (1-0).
- The last four opening matches of a FIFA World Cup have produced a total of 17 goals – an average of 4.25 per game. This is the first time the tournament is kicking off on a Sunday since the 1982 edition, with Belgium beating holders Argentina 1-0 in Barcelona.
/ 8 months ago
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