Today at the World Cup: Qatar fall flat while England opt to take knee

After 12 years of controversial headlines, Qatar’s World Cup finally got under way on Sunday with defeat for the host nation.

A glitzy opening ceremony at the Al-Bayt Stadium featuring Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, South Korean pop star Jung Kook and Qatari YouTuber Ghanim Al-Muftah, was followed by a 2-0 loss for Qatar against Ecuador.

Here, the PA news agency rounds up events in Qatar.

Message of unity

Morgan Freeman (left) and Ghanim Al-Muftah (right)
Morgan Freeman, left, and Ghanim al Muftah, right, at the opening ceremony (Adam Davy/PA)

Tournament organisers attempted to turn the focus away from the multitude of issues that have overshadowed the long build-up to Qatar 2022 by emphasising football’s power to unite during the opening ceremony.

“What brings together nations, brings together communities,” Freeman said of the sport. “Everyone is welcome.”

There were also speeches by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Qatar’s party falls flat on the field

Enner Valencia scores his second against Qatar
Enner Valencia scored both as Ecuador beat Qatar 2-0 (Nick Potts/PA)

Qatar’s high hopes were quickly punctured as Ecuador eased to a comfortable victory in the first match of the tournament.

Enner Valencia scored both goals in the first half with a well-taken penalty and a towering header.

The former West Ham striker also had an early goal disallowed in a marginal call from the new semi-automated offside technology being used at the tournament.

The second half was a tame affair with Qatar rarely threatening an Ecuador side who remained in control. The result meant Qatar became the first host nation to lose their opening match in World Cup history and thousands left the ground early.

Early talking point

Enner Valencia scores a goal that is ruled out for offside
Valencia’s early effort was ruled out for offside (Adam Davy/PA)

The action had barely begun old when the tournament got its first major on-field talking point.

Valencia thought he had given Ecuador a third-minute lead against the hosts but, after a lengthy delay, the goal was eventually disallowed for offside.

The verdict was Michael Estrada was marginally offside during a build-up in which Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb twice flapped at a cross, but it was not clearly communicated.

Maddison out

James Maddison
James Maddison is unavailable against Iran (Martin Rickett/PA)

James Maddison will miss England’s opening fixture against Iran.

The Leicester playmaker is yet to participate in full training in Qatar and was absent from Sunday’s session at England’s Al Wakrah Sports Complex base.

Maddison was substituted in the first half of the Foxes’ win over West Ham with a knee problem last weekend.

Scans have not shown a serious problem but Maddison’s limited involvement so far will see him sit out Monday’s Group B encounter at the Khalifa International Stadium.

Bale fit and ready to fire

Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale is looking forward to Wales’ opening game (Peter Byrne/PA)

Gareth Bale has shrugged off concerns over his fitness as Wales prepare to play their first match at the World Cup finals in 64 years.

Manager Robert Page’s star player has played just 30 minutes of football for his club Los Angeles FC since the start of October.

Wales open their campaign against the United States on Monday evening.

Former Tottenham and Real Madrid forward Bale said: “I’m right where I wanted to be. I’m ready to go.

“It’s game-time tomorrow and hopefully we can step up and deliver what needs to be delivered.”

England to take the knee

Gareth Southgate has confirmed England will take the knee at games throughout the tournament.

The Three Lions made the gesture against racism and inequality in 33 straight matches after football returned following the Covid-19 shutdown.

“We have discussed taking the knee,” said England manager Southgate. “We feel we should.”

England captain Harry Kane has also reiterated his intention to wear the ‘OneLove’ rainbow armband during games.

There have been suggestions repercussions could include fines or bookings.

Kane said: “I think we’ve made it clear that we want to wear it.”

Boyle blow for Australia

Martin Boyle
Hibernian’s Martin Boyle is to miss the tournament (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Australia’s Hibernian winger Martin Boyle has been forced to pull out of the tournament with a knee injury.

Boyle, who sat out Hibs’ final three games before the World Cup break, had hoped to prove his fitness but has admitted defeat.

Melbourne City winger Marco Tilio has been called up as his replacement ahead of the Socceroos’ opening fixture against France on Tuesday.

Picture of the day

Enner Valencia
Valencia is fouled by Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb, winning a penalty which he converted to put Ecuador ahead in the opening game (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Tweet of the day

“At the centre of the world, in the eyes of everyone,” reads the tweet from Ecuador’s official team account.

Who’s up next?

Group A: Senegal v Netherlands (1600, ITV1)
Group B: England v Iran (1300, BBC One), USA v Wales (1900, ITV1)