Qatar v Ecuador: Hosts plotting to defy the odds in historic World Cup opener

History will be made when hosts Qatar get the World Cup under way with a clash against Ecuador and head coach Felix Sanchez says "you never know what can happen".

Al Bayt Stadium will be the venue for the opening match of the tournament on Sunday and Qatar's first World Cup game.

The 2019 AFC Asian Cup champions are not expected to qualify from Group A, which also includes Netherlands and Senegal.

Sanchez is realistic over the host nation's prospects but is relishing the challenge of trying to defy expectations.

The Spaniard said: "Obviously, I'm not talking about Qatar winning the World Cup, but competing at a good level against those three teams is our challenge.

"Then this is football, and you never know what can happen."

Ecuador are 44th in the world rankings, only six places higher than Qatar as they prepare to lock horns in Al Khor.

Defender Byron Castillo was a late omission from Gustavo Alfaro's squad due to a dispute over his nationality this week.

Alfaro knows his Ecuador side are not well fancied to make their presence felt but expects them to make life difficult for their group rivals.

He said: "The World Cup is totally different from what the qualifiers are. If we are going to play the way we played the qualifiers, most likely we won't have a chance, because we are going to play against the Asian champions, against the African champions and against the Netherlands, who are in the final four in Europe.

"They are teams that are superior to what we are, for a reason we were in pot number four in the draw, if we had been the best we would have been in pot one or two. We have to be make things difficult, we have to be the pebble in their shoe."

If history is anything to go by, there should be entertainment on Sunday, as the past four opening World Cup games have produced 17 goals at an average of 4.25 per match.

Al Bayt Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for Qatar, as they have won their three previous matches at the venue with an aggregate score of 9-0.

Almoez Ali
Almoez Ali

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Qatar – Almoez Ali 

Striker Ali was the leading scorer when Qatar were crowned the champions of Asia three years ago, scoring nine goals in seven games.

That impressive tally was achieved from only 10 shots on target and was a record for a single edition of the tournament. Qatar will need him to be clinical on the biggest stage of all on home soil.

Ecuador - Pervis Estupinan 

Left-back Estupinan can make an impact at both ends of the field for Ecuador.

The Brighton and Hove Albion full-back created 22 chances during a successful World Cup qualifying campaign, more than any other defender.

 

PREDICTION

Ecuador are fancied to spoil the party and get off to a winning start.

According to Stats Perform’s AI model, Alfaro's men have a 41.4 per cent chance of securing all three points, with the draw rated at 29 per cent.

Qatar have a 29.6 per cent chance of coming out on top, according to the model, in what looks like being their best opportunity to register a historic victory.