VAR drama, political statements and empty seats: Five big takeaways from the opening day of the World Cup

A huge version of the trophy at the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2022 World Cup kicked off on Sunday with a 2-0 win for Ecuador against hosts Qatar at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.

Fenerbahce forward Enner Valencia scored both goals for Ecuador in the first half to give the South Americans a comfortable win in Group A.

The former West Ham and Everton striker saw an early effort ruled out by VAR, but later put Ecuador ahead from the penalty spot and added another with a fine header.

Here is a look at the main talking points from day one of the World Cup as the football finally got under way at Qatar 2022...

Politics REALLY won't be ignored

FIFA president Gianni Infantino during the opening match at Qatar 2022 between the host nation and Ecuador.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many people have criticised this World Cup as an act of ‘sportswashing’ – when a state or corporation uses investment in sports to create a positive news stories around them to cover up other unfavourable coverage.

For Qatar, it seems to have amplified some of the conversations around their poor human rights records and illiberal and authoritarian approach to LGBT issues.

The BBC kicked off their coverage of the opening game with a monologue from Gary Lineker on FIFA’s failings, before including a section from BBC News presenter Ros Atkins and an interview with its Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen. On BeIN Sports, Gary Neville slammed FIFA president Gianni Infantino, comparing him (unfavourably) with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

Gareth Southgate also confirmed on Sunday that England players would take the knee ahead of their opening game with Iran.

Whatever happens at this World Cup, it seems politics will be at the forefront.

Could lack of interest hold the tournament back?

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By the second half of Qatar vs Ecudaor, huge swathes of the seats at the Al Bayt stadium stood empty.

Why that happened is not exactly clear. Sure, the hosts suffered a poor first half – but are Qatari fans really that fickle? Did the locals have concerns about the transport infrastructure to take them home? Do they just not care very much?

The bare stands were obvious on camera, appeared to dampen any atmosphere, and made for a terrible look on televisions the world over. If that’s a sign of things to come, it could make for a drab four weeks.

VAR will play a big role

General view of the scoreboard showing the VAR decision as Ecuador's early effort is ruled out against Qatar in the World Cup's opening match.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It did not take long for VAR to make its mark on this World Cup.

Less than three minutes had elapsed at the Al-Bayt Stadium when Ecuador thought they had scored the tournament's opening goal. But VAR had other ideas.

Initially, it was unclear why Enner Valencia's strike had been ruled out, but replays eventually showed that there was a marginal offside in the build-up which would have been almost impossible to spot in real time.

Michael Estrada's lower leg was in an offside position after the ball had come off team-mate Felix Torres. Technically correct? Perhaps. But not everyone was pleased.

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Speaking at half-time during the BBC's coverage, Gary Lineker called it 'absurd'. And on social media, as always, there was a wide range of opinions.

But love it or hate it, VAR will clearly have a big part to play at this World Cup.

Qatar are worse than we thought

Qatar players leave the pitch after their 2-0 loss to Ecuador in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hosts nations usually give a good account of themselves at World Cups and there was a lot of expectation ahead of Qatar’s debut against Ecuador on Sunday.

Qatar came into the tournament ranked 50th in the world, unbeaten in their last six games after wins over Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Albania and a draw at home to Chile last September.

But none of those teams are in the World Cup and Ecuador quickly showed the hosts that they were on a different level, netting inside three minutes in an effort ultimately ruled out by VAR before adding two legitimate goals in the opening 45 minutes.

There was a half chance late in the first half for Qatar and then again just before the end, but Ecuador also had opportunities to extend their lead and it was a fairly one-sided contest in the end.

Qatar are the first host nation to lose their opening game at a World Cup and seem likely to become only the second home team – after South Africa in 2010 – to fail to emerge from their group.

With Senegal up next on Friday and the Dutch to follow a week on Tuesday, it will not get any easier for the host nation.

Enner Valencia sets pace in Golden Boot race

Enner Valencia celebrates after scoring his and Ecuador's second goal in the 2-0 win over Qatar on the opening day of the 2022 World Cup.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It was an eventful start to the tournament for Enner Valencia.

In addition to bagging both goals to set the pace in the Golden Boot race, the Ecuador captain had what appeared to be the opener ruled out for an offside decision we're still trying to get our heads around, and temporarily went off injured with what looked to be a painful knee injury – before coming back on and eventually being substituted after 77 minutes.

Valencia's first goal – an outrageously cool penalty after being fouled by Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb – was especially significant as it made him Ecuador's all-time leading World Cup scorer with four goals.

His second – a seriously powerful header – saw him become the fourth player to bag a brace in the tournament's opening game this century (after Denis Cheryshev for Russia in 2018, Neymar for Brazil in 2014, and Miroslav Klose for Germany in 2006).

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