World Cup 2022 kicks off with a Group A tussle between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in what promises to be a showpiece event in Al Khor. The host nation has never lost an opening match in the history of the World Cup and with a list of predecessors to emulate, Qatar will be determined to mark today’s monumental occasion in the perfect manner.
Below, you can jump into our first World Cup stats pack of the tournament which contains key info on shots, shots on target, corners, cards, xG and more from the teams’ previous fixtures and campaigns. Use our research and my Stats Pack Guide to construct smarter bet builders for today’s World Cup opener.
Qatar’s Spanish Head Coach, Félix Sánchez, favours a 5-3-2 formation and we expect to see a heavy emphasis on defending in numbers today. Qatar’s joint-leading scorer, Almoez Ali, should be partnered up front by Akram Afif.
Vastly experienced centre-back Abdelkarim Hassan is a key member of Qatar’s backline, while skipper Hassan Al-Haidous, who has won 169 caps for his country, is the main man in midfield.
Ecuador manager, Gustavo Alfaro, has a fully-fit squad to choose from for Ecuador’s opening salvo at the World Cup today. The South Americans are likely to be deployed in a 4-3-3 formation with Fenerbahce’s Enner Valencia the focal point in attack.
Fans of the Premier League will be familiar with Brighton pair Pervis Estupinan and Moses Caicedo – both of whom are expected to feature in Alfaro’s XI against Qatar.
Qatar entered the World Cup qualification phase despite automatically qualifying for the tournament as hosts in a bid to gain competitive match practice and The Maroon excelled, dropping just two points in eight games and topping the group ahead of Oman, India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
The attacking metrics from Qatar’s qualifiers jump off the page with their xG (3.09), shots (20.40) and shots on target (6.40) per 90 particularly eye-catching entries. However, don’t expect Qatar’s edge in the final third at the World Cup itself to be quite so razor-sharp.
Any team that earns passage from the devilishly difficult World Cup qualification battle in South America should be respected and Ecuador lost just six times in 18 fixtures in the CONCACAF zone to finish ahead of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay.
Ecuador matched Argentina for goals per 90 (1.50) during their successful qualification journey, while only Brazil and the Argentineans conceded less often (1.06 per 90). Ecuador’s fixtures were also laden with cards, indeed their final four games alone featured a bone-crunching 31 of them.
Player shots and shots on target
Qatar’s front two, Akram Afif and Almoez Ali, racked up 1.65 and 2.03 shots per 90 respectively in the Asian World Cup qualifiers, though Afif’s accuracy (1.32 SOT p/90) was streets ahead of his partner’s.
Abdulaziz Hatem (2.30) often added thrust from midfield, while captain Abdelkarim Hassan’s shot figures (2.64 p/90) were notably high for a defender and the 29-year-old could be worth pricing as an outside contender in the market at longer odds.
Of the five most potent performers for Ecuador in the shot department during their World Cup qualification journey, just three are expected to start against Qatar today (Enner Valencia, Gonzalo Plata and Moises Caicedo).
Enner Valencia clocked 2.02 shots per 90 minutes in La Tri’s qualification fixtures, which makes Moises Caicedo’s (1.72) numbers from midfield all the more impressive by comparison.
Angel Mena, Michael Estrada and Jeremy Sarimento could make an impact off the bench in the shot market if they are introduced to trouble tired Qatari legs in the second half.
Player Goals and Assists
Qatar plundered 18 goals in eight games in their qualification group and dynamic duo, Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, combined to provide ten of those strikes. Ali also managed to find the net in each of Qatar’s last two World Cup warm-up tests against Panama and Albania.
Abdulaziz Hatem and Hassan Al-Haidous chipped in with four goals between them from midfield in Qatar’s World Cup qualifiers though both players could be shouldered with more defensive responsibilities today.
Michael Estrada, who plays his club football with Cruz Azul in Mexico, was Ecuador’s leading marksman during their successful qualification campaign with six goals. Enner Valencia found the net four times but made five fewer appearances than Estrada.
Interestingly, Ecuador failed to score in four of their final five friendly games before the World Cup, in fact, the only goal they managed to score across their last 450 minutes of football was dispatched from the spot by Moises Caicedo. Brighton midfielder Caicedo (four assists) was also a keen creative force for Ecuador during their qualification adventure.
Qatar collected few cards during their surge to the summit of their World Cup qualification group, though midfielder Hassan Al Haidous (0.96) topped the pile for fouls committed per 90 and he should have plenty of defensive work to get through today.
In defence, both Abdelkarim Hassan and Bassam Al Rawi are worth tracking against Ecuador, despite the latter’s absence from our list. At club level, Hassan has been carded nine times in just 33 league appearances across his last two campaigns, while Al Rawi was cautioned twice in his last five runouts for Qatar.
Both defenders should have counter attacks to foil and pacey Ecuadorian players to track today.
Ecuador Cards Drawn
Gonzalo Plata (fouled 3.33 p/90), Moises Caicedo (2.14) and Enner Valencia (1.90) were Ecuador’s most-fouled players during La Tri’s qualification journey and all three are excellent card-drawing candidates in today’s World Cup opener.
Gonzalo Plata is a tricky customer on the flank and his ball-carrying runs from out to in could unsettle Abdelkarim Hassan on the left side of Ecuador’s three-man central defensive block. 33-year-old Enner Valencia has the physicality and nous to agitate Bassam Al Rawi more centrally.
In midfield, Moises Caicedo is Ecuador’s star man and he is certain to be surveilled closely by Qatar’s most prolific foul merchant, Hassan Al Haidous.
Match-Ups to watch
Hassan Al Haidous vs Moises Caicedo
Bassam Al Rawi vs Enner Valencia
Abdelkarim Hassan vs Gonzalo Plata
Three players share the dubious honour of being Ecuador’s most-carded players during La Tri’s pursuit of World Cup qualification, though energetic Brighton enforcer, Moises Caicedo, seems the likeliest of the three to pick up a caution in today’s World Cup opener.
Elsewhere, one of Caicedo’s midfield partners, José Cifuentes, should also be on your radar, even if his name is a notable omission from our list. Cifuentes was carded nine times in 29 starts for his club Los Angeles FC in the MLS and he tackles with enough ferocity to irk the officials today.
A little further back, Bayer Leverkusen’s Piero Hincapié should also feature in your thinking. The 20-year-old has picked up six cards in just 16 starts for Die Wekself in the Bundesliga and Champions League this term and Hincapié will be eager to impress on his World Cup debut.
Qatar Cards Drawn
As one of his team’s biggest goal threats, Qatari dangerman Akram Afif (fouled 3.16 times p/90) was routinely targeted by opponents during The Maroon’s qualification campaign and the 25-year-old could be shadowed closely by Ecuador’s Hincapié today.
In midfield, Hassan Al Haidous (fouled 0.55 times p/90) is an influential figure and Cifuentes will be eager to knock him out of his stride. When afforded the opportunity, Abdulaziz Hatem (fouled 0.46 times p/90) likes to break forward from deep to join the Qatari attack, though he could hit a brick wall during any forays into the Ecuadorian half in the form of Moises Caicedo.
Match-Ups to watch
Moises Caicedo vs Abdulaziz Hatem
Piero Hincapié vs Akram Afif
José Cifuentes vs Hassan Al Haidous