Qatar coach Felix Sanchez hails fans despite mass exodus in defeat by Ecuador

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez insisted his team felt the backing of the home crowd despite supporters leaving in droves in the second half of their 2-0 defeat by Ecuador on the World Cup’s opening night.

The Al Bayt Stadium had been a riot of noise and colour during the opening ceremony and even during the first half but Enner Valencia’s double clearly punctured the enthusiasm of the home fans, and with 10 minutes to go the stadium was virtually empty.

Sanchez was asked about the empty seats and said: “Truth be told, I have enough work to do to take a look at it.

WCup Qatar Ecuador Soccer
Felix Sanchez and Qatar got off to a losing start (Darko Bandic/AP/PA)

“We felt backed and supported and we hope for the next game, people will feel prouder and keep supporting us to the end of the tournament.

“The atmosphere was great, people were very much looking forward to this game.

“We knew (a defeat) could happen and the result can sometimes be difficult. We will try to learn from today and I’m completely sure we will make people feel more happy with our performance.”

Qatar survived an early scare when semi-automated offside technology was deployed right at the start of the tournament to disallow a Valencia header for a marginal call against his strike partner Michael Estrada.

But Ecuador regrouped and were two goals clear by the half-hour point as first Valencia rolled home a penalty after he was tripped by Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.  The former West Ham and Everton man then applied a precision header to full-back Angelo Preciado’s right-wing cross.

Qatar v Ecuador – FIFA World Cup 2022 – Group A – Al Bayt Stadium
Enner Valencia scored his first goal from the penalty spot (Nick Potts/PA)

Sanchez, speaking through an interpreter, added: “There’s no excuse, we want to congratulate our opponents, they deserved to win.

“There is a lot of room for improvement. Maybe the responsibility and nerves got the best of us. We didn’t start well. It was a terrible start actually.”

Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro was impressed by his side’s response to the early disallowed goal.

The Argentine said; “The VAR decision had an impact. That changed our mood, but still we persevered.

“The players asked me while the check was taking place, ‘what’s happening?’

“I lost sight of what was happening but my colleagues saw the video. Michael Estrada needs to do something about his fingernails and his toenails, because it was very tight.”

Valencia limped off before the end, and stated he had picked up knee and ankle problems.

However, Alfaro was adamant he would be fit to face the Netherlands on Friday, and lauded the striker’s contribution.

“Valencia has been going through tough times. He has been questioned in Ecuador, but now we can see what he’s giving us.”