Fans of victorious Ecuador were heard chanting “we want beer” during their World Cup-opening win over Qatar, while the host nation’s supporters left en masse before the end of the game on Sunday.
Large swathes of empty seats in the second half summed up the Qatar soccer team’s disappointing start to their first ever World Cup, but a lively and outnumbered group of Ecuadorians in the stands provided some levity by chanting for beer toward the end of the first half.
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It was a humorous intervention two days after Qatar decided to ban beer sales at the stadiums during the World Cup. It was a late change by the conservative Islamic nation where access to alcohol is strictly limited, with only alcohol-free Bud Zero sold at the game.
The night started with more than 67,000 mostly Qatari fans filling the cavernous Al Bayt Stadium, enjoying an opening ceremony that showcased the tiny Arab emirate to a global audience 12 years after winning the right to host soccer’s biggest event.
It ended with Qatar’s overmatched team trudging off the field, their unwanted place in soccer history secure and with many of their dismayed fans having long disappeared.
The controversy-laced tournament opened Sunday with the 2019 Asian Cup champions getting outplayed in a 2-0 loss to Ecuador, ensuring a host team lost their opening game for the first time at a World Cup.
“I would say we felt bad [for our supporters],” Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said. “I hope in the next game they will be prouder.”
Ecuador captain Enner Valencia, who was substituted in the 77th minute with discomfort in his knee and ankle, scored both of his team’s goals in the first half of a one-sided game that wound up being a damage-limitation exercise for Qatar on one of the biggest nights in the nation’s history.
“This is just the start of the World Cup,” said the 33-year-old Valencia, who has now scored Ecuador’s last five goals at the World Cup, including three in 2014. “We have to keep dreaming.”
In what might go down as one of the worst displays by a host nation to open a tournament, Qatar had five shots in the match and none of them were on target. The team had only two touches inside the opposition penalty area.
“I wouldn’t say we were naïve,” Sanchez said. “I would say this was about nervousness … maybe we had too many doubts.”
With Qatar’s passes often going astray and their defensive raggedness repeatedly exposed, Ecuador had no problem holding onto the lead as Sanchez stood helpless in his technical area and the home fans fell quiet.
Many didn’t return for the second half. And heading into the final quarter of the game, thousands of seats were empty.
Following the disappointing start, Qatar will need more than just luck to avoid joining South Africa as the only host nation to fail to get out of the group stage at the World Cup with matches against Senegal and Netherlands still to come.
“We have to forget about the pressure and be more competitive,” Sanchez said. “We can do it.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.