Hosts Qatar have their task cut out as they take on Ecuador in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament opener at the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor on Sunday (November 20).

The Felix Sanchez-coached squad is a blend of youth and experience with the White and Maroon brigade pinning their hopes on 2019 AFC Asian Footballer of the Year Akram Afif and AFC Asian Cup hero Almoez Ali.

The onus on Felix Sanchez and Co is double considering the fact that Qatar will be trying to prove critics wrong that they are playing in the World Cup just by virtue of being the host nation.

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Almoez was the star for Qatar during their 2019 AFC Asian Cup campaign in the UAE where he scored a record-breaking nine goals to emerge as the tournament top-scorer, thereby playing an instrumental role in Al Annabi’s maiden triumph at the continental level.

The Qatar coach is also realistic about his side’s ambitions at their first finals, considering Ecuador clear favourites and suggesting Group A rivals may have already written the hosts off.

In the pre-match press conference Sanchez re-iterated the fact that Qatar are “worthy to be here”, but his realism was reflected in his analysis of Group A that contains the Netherlands and Senegal, as well as Ecuador.

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“It’s three games, and we know the level of our opponent,” said theformer Barceloan youth coach. “Due to their history, their individual talent, their careers where they play, they are ahead of us.

“On paper, they should get the three points. Maybe they count on the three points already.

“But we’re here to show we can be a competitive team. We will bring our ‘A game’ and try to get good results that will bring so much joy.”

Qatar captain Hassan Al Haydos added: “We want to show the results of all of our hard work. God willing, we will perform much better than any game before.”

Al Haydos appeared to be amused when an internet rumour, which claimed Ecuador had been offered a bribe to lose, was relayed to Sanchez.

“I said before: I think there is a lot of disinformation,” the coach said. “The internet is great, but it’s also very dangerous, from my point of view.

Qatar have their task cut out against Ecuador

“For many years, we’ve been preparing, training. Together we’re strong, nobody will be able to destabilise us with this criticism and statements.

“We’re very motivated, excited and happy to be playing in a World Cup tomorrow. We’re focusing on how to arrive with our best conditions. We don’t take anything else into account.”

Following the 2019 AFC Asian Cup triumph, Qatar were given a chance to compete in the Copa America the same year, where they were drawn against tougher opponents like Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia.

Currently 50th in FIFA rankings, Qatar have played several tournaments in different parts of the world and that experience should hold them in good stead as they move into an uncharted territory.

Kick-off/TV info

Kick-off date: Sunday, November 20

Kick-off time: 7pm local time (9.30pm IST)

Venue: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Live telecast: Sports 10

Live streaming: Jio Cinema app.