The very first World Cup in the Middle East is just around the corner, and there’s no shortage of things to talk about in the first week of the tournament.
There was so much to enjoy in the opening week of the World Cup in Qatar. All eight beautiful stadiums were used for the first time. We’ve seen a number of the world’s best players on the pitch. We saw wonderful goals, shock results and a brilliant opening ceremony.
Victory for Ecuador opening day cruise
The opening game of the World Cup got off to a spectacular start as we were treated to a fantastic opening ceremony full of Qatari traditions and culture. Hollywood star Morgan Freeman led the show along with local YouTuber Ghanim Al Muftaha. There was an excellent section that paid tribute to previous editions of the tournament, which featured every World Cup mascot. Korean pop star sensation Jungkook also played his official World Cup song “Dreamers.”
After the ceremony ended, the time to wait was over and we watched history be made with the first game of the 2022 World Cup. The host, Qatar, faced South American challengers in Ecuador. There was drama early on when VAR scored a goal for Ecuador in the first three minutes. Defender Michael Estrada was offside.
They didn’t have to wait long to score a legitimate goal. A penalty was won when striker Enner Valencia threw the ball around Qatari goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb and was fouled as he was about to hit the ball. Valencia brushed themselves off and hid the penalty to make it 1-0. He was the goal scorer again after half an hour when he arrived at the end of Angelo Preciado’s cross. The 2-0 score proved too high for Qatar to climb, and Ecuador easily got through the rest of the game.
England starts with a big win
Gareth Southgate’s England team began their campaign with an impressive 6-2 victory over Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium. Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka were the stars of the Three Lions as they wanted to improve after their 2018 semifinals.
Unfortunately, England’s captain and top scorer Harry Kane suffered a blow. The extent of the injury to his right ankle is not yet known. His involvement in the rest of this tournament, however, will be critical to the team’s success over the course of the games.
The great return of Wales
Elsewhere in Group B, Wales historically returned to the World Cup with their opening game against the USA at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium.
Rob Page’s team had problems in the first half and were down 1-0 at half time thanks to a goal from Timothy Weah. But a substitute for Wales at the break changed the game and put things back in their favor. Striker Kieffer Moore made a big difference in regaining control of the game, but it was star man Gareth Bale who won a penalty and had the chance to equalize with 10 minutes to go.
Bale has won countless trophies at club level and it’s no stranger to scoring in big games. He stood up for his country and buried the penalty that earned them a valuable point in their opening game. Their next game will be played against Iran before a crunch game against British neighbour England on November 29.
Saudis shock Messi’s Argentina
In the biggest shock of the week, Saudi Arabia scored an astonishing result in its opening game against Argentina at Lusail Stadium.
The Argentines started the game with an unbeaten streak of 36 games over three years. It looked as though this run would continue as Leandro Paredes had to wrestle into the turf on a free kick. Lionel Messi set his sights on the cup, which alluded to his long and successful career, and stashed away the penalty to give Argentina the lead.
Saudi Arabia, however, remained competitive. They regrouped at half time and played against their opponents in the second half. Within 8 minutes of the restart, they had turned the game around and led 2-1. From there, they watched the game impeccable and dealt Argentina, a tournament favorite, a heavy blow.
The reigning champions are ready to go
And finally, world champion France got his crown defense up and running with a 4-1 win over Australia at Al Janoub Stadium.
The French were behind after nine minutes, but they didn’t panic and worked their way back into the game effortlessly. It was a historic evening for Olivier Giroud, who was able to compete with Thierry Henry as France’s all-time record scorer. The AC Milan striker has scored two goals and will be desperate to break that record over the next few weeks as France continues its quest for consecutive World Cups.
The coming week will be formative for many teams. Can Qatar recover from its first loss and find a way into the knock-out phase? Can Saudi Arabia continue to shock the big teams and make it out of their group? There is still absolutely everything you can play for, for all 32 nations.