DOHA, Qatar -- For 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar, over a decade of anticipation and preparation will all come to fruition on Sunday night when they finally make their tournament debut at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday evening.
Unfortunately, for all the hope and optimism Qatar are heading into this World Cup with, there is the possibility that it could easily -- and quickly -- turn into a chastening experience.
After all, the Qataris are the sole debuting team at the tournament and are one of the lowest-ranked hosts in the history of the competition. They also run the risk of just lacking that extra bit of experience with none of their players plying their trade outside of the domestic Qatar Stars League.
Three consecutive defeats would be the embarrassment that they are so keen to avoid, especially given the increasing scrutiny over their presence as the tournament as the host nation.
And thus, it is imperative that they get up and running immediately in what looms as the easier of their three ties at the tournament -- against Ecuador on Sunday.
Recent form has not been great either with the South American outfit looking blunt in attack, having played out 0-0 draws in four of their last five outings -- which included ties against three Asian teams in Saudi Arabia, Japan and most recently Iraq.
The fact that these three teams have been able to hold Ecuador to a draw provides a decent gauge as to how Qatar will line up against them, given the hosts are currently continental champions having defeated both Saudi Arabia and Japan in their AFC Asian Cup-winning campaign of 2019.
Sunday's game has certainly been a long time in the making, especially for coach Felix Sanchez -- who has been involved in the national team setup since 2013 but first moved to Qatar to coach in 2006 -- and captain Hassan al-Haydos, who will lead his team out 14 years and 169 caps since his international bow.
"Obviously everything we've done in the past three years is to have a very competitive team in the World Cup. Every country's situation is different and we're a small country,' said Sanchez.
"After so many years, this is the end of a cycle -- 16 years working in this country. I've been in a project, growing and following the steps of players in the national team.
"It's a huge source of pride. I will try to enjoy the moment. We know it's three (group) games, we know the potential of our opponents. They are national teams that, due to their history and individual talent, they're ahead of us.
"On paper they should get the three points, maybe they count on winning all three points. But we're here to show that we can be a competitive team. We will bring our A-game."
Al-Haydos added: "It's a childhood dream. We tried to qualify and we didn't succeed in the past. But (even) if we had played in the qualifiers (this time around), I believe we would have qualified."
Chances are they would have. Few would argue that Qatar would not have been a realistic chance to make it had they had to go through the Asian qualifiers.
Yet, the point is moot now that they are here and the tournament is about to get underway.
They will need at least one positive result to show they they belong -- and Sunday's opener against Ecuador looks their best chance.