By Andile Ncube
Johannesburg – Qatar are an unknown quantity at the Fifa World Cup, and the tournament hosts will make their debut as they stage the Middle East’s first World Cup.
They are the third-lowest ranked of the 32 teams at the tournament, so the odds are stacked against them. The hosts, though, will be highly motivated to not follow South Africa as the only host nation not to advance beyond the group stage.
They have been inspired to greater heights by their home crowd before, as they stormed to winning Asian championship in 2019, beating Japan in the final, so Qatar have the ability to rise to the occasion on the big stage when it matters.
While they may be new to football’s top table, they have plenty of experience and have a generation of players whose entire careers were built around preparing for Qatar 2022.
This group of players is considered to be one of “The Maroon’s” strongest ever. Goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb – a mainstay with more than 75 caps – will be crucial to the home team’s chances in a tough group where they will face Ecuador in the tournament opener, as well as the Netherlands and Senegal.
Another Qatari stalwart is Abdelkarim Hassan, the attacking left back known as “the Flamethrower’. With 120 international caps to his name, Hassan was the first-choice left back for his former club Al Sadd for many a year and his influence, speed and attacking ability is unparalleled.
For goals, Qatar will look to current Al-Duhail SC star Almoez Ali, who was their top scorer at both the 2021 Gold Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup, scoring nine goals and four goals respectively.
Any team that qualifies from South America’s tough Conmebol qualifiers deserves their place at a World Cup, and Ecuador will be relishing their fourth appearance at the tournament.
Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Moises Calcedo is Ecuador’s star player, while Fenerbahce forward Enner Valencia is another familiar name.
Ecuador are not expected to progress too far at the tournament, but the hosts will be hoping they don’t spoil the start of their party.
Andile Ncube’s Prediction: Qatar 2 Ecuador 1
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