Prior to the World Cup opening, FIFA encouraged the participating nations to “focus on football.”
After the result of the competition’s opening game, everyone associated with Qatar will want to forget their last 90 minutes of football for at least the next week.
Felix Sanchez’s side were easily beaten 2-0 by Ecuador and failed to find a shot on goal throughout the competition.
And they are the first host team in the history of the tournament to lose their opening game.
A day that began with genuine optimism in realizing their World Cup dream soon turned into a nightmare for players and fans alike.
Glamorous opening ceremony before kick-off
Tons of columns and website copy were published about Qatar’s right to host the World Cup when Sepp Blatter revealed her name from an envelope 12 years ago.
Questions about the country’s human rights record and treatment of LGBT people overshadowed the build-up, but excitement reigned outside the stadium for hours before Sunday’s game.
There were many cultural references to Qatar in the stadium and at the opening ceremony
Security guards lined the entrance ramp on camels and horses, while traditional Arabic dances with tablahs (drums) were performed near the turnstiles.
Although the locals were more reserved, the arriving Ecuadorian supporters sang and sang for their side in fine voices.
Before kick-off at Al Bayt, a stadium shaped like a Bedouin tent, actor Morgan Freeman performed a glittering opening ceremony and Ghanim Al Muftah, who was born with the rare caudal regression syndrome, read verses from the Koran.
There was also a new single released by BTS global superstar Jung Kook, who performed alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al Qubaisi.
At the Doha Fan Festival, spectators had gathered to watch the game on a big screen as their day had finally come. There were so many thousands that the fans were turned away an hour before kick-off.
Still, they poured out of the subway stations, only to be diverted to another big screen away from the fan festival.
Previously, little had been written about Qatar being Asian champions and having an experienced five-player squad with 100 caps or more.
And just as well because they had a shocker.
“Of course we didn’t hope for that,” said Sanchez afterwards. “Now it’s our turn to analyze this game, focus and try to forget today.
“There are no excuses. Congratulations to Ecuador, who deserved to win. There is a lot of room for improvement. We didn’t play at our best level. Maybe responsibility or nerves took the best from us.”
“A terrible start, that determines the rest of the game. We have to forget about the pressure.”
Qatar fans are leaving early in numbers
Qatar fans in maroon shirts behind the goal made the most noise.
Qatar could have conceded their first World Cup goal when Enner headed in Valencia from close range, but they were stopped by an offside position spotted by the video assistant referee.
Things didn’t improve, however, as the ex-West Ham Valencia striker scored from the penalty spot and headed in for a 2-0 lead at half-time.
While the Ecuadorians enjoyed their day, the home fans in their traditional thobs and abayas mostly sat in silence save for a line of fans in maroon shirts behind the goal.
Many of those who left their seats at half-time did not return, leaving the stadium half-empty for most of the second half.
It contributed to a bland atmosphere that produced just one shot on goal in the second half.
When asked about the large number of empty seats, Sanchez said, “To be honest, I’ve had enough work in this game to look at it.
“Yes, we have felt welcomed and supported by our fans and I hope they can be prouder next time. This national team can do better and I’m sure they will support us until the end of the tournament.
“It’s far from our best performance. This competition is short so we need to recover for the next game and hopefully things will be better for us.”
But it couldn’t be easier.
Africa Cup of Nations champions Senegal are next on Friday, rounding out Group A on November 29 against the Netherlands.
Qatar need to pull themselves together – and quickly – to avoid the shame of becoming only the second host country, after South Africa 2010, to fail to make it through the group stage.
Away from the field, the preparation for the home World Cup was smiled at, but the national team does not want to suffer the same ordeal.