The 2022 FIFA World Cup is upon us and only one brave soul picked Qatar to beat Ecuador in the opening game

Arlo Gibbons
Arlo Gibbons
7 Min Read

Today’s the day! Sure, it’s in the middle of winter. And yes, as recently as yesterday the major story of this World Cup was off the field as Gianni Infantino had one of the most absolutely bizarre press conferences you’ll ever see. But the reality is that — for better or worse — once the games start, they tend to take center stage. So watch some fireworks, listen to somebody from BTS named Jung Kook (I’m told they’re very famous) sing the FIFA song, and then let’s get to some matches. I’m Mike Goodman — this is the Golazo Starting XI — and it’s finally time to talk about some World Cup matches.

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âš½ The Forward Line

World Cup is here! Let’s talk Qatar-Ecuador

CBS Sports

OK, I’ll be honest: I am not an expert in Qatari or Ecuadorian soccer. But, if we’re still being honest: I know more than you about these two sides, so let me fill you in. As the host nation, Qatar did not have to qualify for the World Cup. Instead, they went and competed in the CONMEBOL Copa America in 2019 and the Concacaf Gold Cup in 2021. Is that normal? No. But it happened, and they were … OK? Not necessarily good, but respectable. In 2019, they drew Paraguay (2-2), lost narrowly to Colombia (1-0) and then to Argentina (2-0). Then they made the Gold Cup semifinals by drawing Panama before beating a bunch of bad sides in Grenada, Honduras and El Salvador. They were eventually knocked out by a United States B-team in the final minutes of the semifinals. The biggest success this Qatar team had was winning the 2019 Asian Cup and beating the likes of Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan — all World Cup participants — along the way. Anyway, their entire squad plays domestically, so while we might expect players like Akram Afif to be their most dangerous threat on the ball, it’s not like we’ve been watching a ton of him recently.

Ecuador, on the other hand have some real international pedigree. In particular, midfielder Moises Caicedo is a potential star in the making. He currently plays at Brighton, alongside Ecuador teammate Pervis Estupinan, a dangerous two-way fullback with big clubs already taking notice. Speaking of big clubs, Manchester United were reportedly interested in signing the two before they made the jump to Brighton. But, really, what speaks highly of this Ecuador’s talent level is the way they qualified for the World Cup. South America is a stacked region and Ecuador are here while usual tournament mainstays, Chile and Colombia, are home on their couches.

For a while it looked like this match might be relatively meaningless, just a nice way for the hosts to have a moment in the sun before both these teams exited stage left. The Netherlands are heavily favored to win this group and Senegal looked likely to be the team to accompany them through. But Senegal lost star striker Sadio Mane, so now everything is wide open. It would be shocking if Qatar made a run, but for Ecuador, the knockouts are definitely in play.

We’ve got plenty more on the opener for you:

Craving more World Cup coverage? Listen below and follow House of Champions, a daily CBS Sports soccer podcast, bringing you top-notch analysis, commentary, picks and more during the big games in Qatar. 

Another day, another devastating injury

In Soccer We Trust YouTube

And yet another star is going to miss the tournament. Karim Benzema was trying to race back to fitness, and during his training sessions back together with France, it all came crashing down. Benzema is the third player that France will have to find a last minute replacement for on their roster, after Christopher Nkunku and Presnel Kempembe also succumbed to injury. 

At least the United States men’s national team got some good news on the injury front. Weston McKennie and Segino Dest both declared themselves fit to play on Saturday.

Now, let’s hit some links:

Listen below and follow In Soccer We Trust: A CBS Sports Soccer Podcast where your three favorite former USMNT players cover everything you could possibly want to know about the United States men’s national team during the World Cup in Qatar.

💰 The Back Line

Best bet

One match today, so you get one pick.

All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Qatar vs. Ecuador, 11 a.m. ET 
    💰 THE PICK: Ecuador (+135). The entire lead-up to this tournament, my operating hypothesis has been that it will be exceedingly strong year for South American sides. I’m sticking to that. It’s possible that eventually I’ll see some evidence to make me change my mind, but until then, Ecuador should be the better team, and it should be enough to overcome the home-field advantage. If this is South America’s year, it won’t be Ecuador who eventually reaps the rewards, but they’re in a position to start things off right.

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