Ismail Mohamed’s eyes lit up when it was mentioned to him yesterday about Saudi Arabia’s stunning win over Argentina at the World Cup. The Qatar midfielder admitted he and his teammates were ‘a little bit jealous’ of their neighbours, before adding it was a huge motivating factor for the team.
Qatar, who will get knocked out of the World Cup today if they fail to beat Senegal at the Al Thumama Stadium, are no short of inspiration.
The Arab teams, barring hosts, have punched above their weights after the first round of matches. Tunisia and Morocco put in a spirited display to hold Denmark and Croatia respectively.
Qatar may be the reigning Asian champions, but it was Japan who played like one when they came back from goal down to upset four-time Germany on Thursday.
“We want to give it our all tomorrow,” declared Mohamed. Easier said than done though for Qatar, especially when the World Cup debutants were soundly beaten by Ecuador in the tournament opener. If the host’s nervy performance on Sunday was put down to stage fright, they are in for no less pressure against African champions Senegal today.
Felix Sanchez’s men stare at an unwanted record as they are hoping to avoid becoming only the second hosts to be eliminated in the group stage at the World Cup. In 2010, South Africa also went out in the first round, but were still alive heading into their third match.
For Qatar, a defeat today to Senegal would make it an unceremonious early departure. On Sunday, disheartened Qatar fans made a beeline for exit as the players overwhelmed by the pressure of all the razzmatazz after the opening ceremony crumbled without a fight against Ecuador. Sanchez said his team have a ‘point to prove’, urging his players today to bring in their ‘A’ game.
“We did not provide the joy to the fans, but we tried to avoid a negative vibe in the past days. Hopefully we can play freely and without pressure and be better than what happened in the first game, this team has a point to prove,” the Spaniard said.
“Matches are controlled by many factors, but the most important thing is to give our best, in the World Cup if you don’t give your best you will be punished. I hope we can compete and bring our ‘A’ Game’ and show that we can be more competitive than we were the other day. We are playing a very high-level team so we need to prove ourselves, play our game and see what happens.”
Al Annabi had one of the longest preparations for the World Cup by any team, spending six months in Europe for isolated training camps. The decision to pull out players from Qatar Stars League and make them play low-intensity friendlies has also been questioned.
Sanchez, though, stuck to his guns saying the long training camp was ideal for his players to build a cohesion ahead of the high-pressure World Cup at home. The 46-year-old dismissed any doubts over the long-term future of Qatari football, regardless of how the team performs in the remaining two matches.
“We are a small country, the smallest to host the World Cup. We prepared ourselves for the possibility of an early exit, but this does not mean the end of the project. One of the things that Qatar has proved so far, which is not common in the world of football, is that there was a long-term plan to prepare. I am confident that Qatar will continue their project to maintain a strong team, compete and qualify for the upcoming tournaments,” he said.
In Senegal they have a strong opponent, who are hurting from their defeat to Group A heavyweights the Netherlands in the opener. The Africans, who are without their star striker Sadio Mane, dominated the Dutch side until the 84th minute before goalkeeper Edouard Mendy’s misjudgment proved costly. A second goal followed in stoppage time with Mendy again at fault, leaving Senegal to do it all against Qatar and Ecuador. A wounded Senegal return to Al Thumama Stadium to stay alive in the competition.
“We have our backs against the wall but we are Lions, the Lions of Teranga,” said centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly yesterday. “We will give everything to continue with the dream and to let the Senegalese people dream. We don’t want to disappoint the Senegalese population. What is certain is that the behaviour and mentality tomorrow will be that of warriors.”
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse backed Mendy, saying the Chelsea goalkeeper has a steely resolve and was a certain starter against Qatar. He is likely to make few changes to his starting line-up though after midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate picked up a thigh muscle tear, while defender Abdou Diallo has a thigh strain.
“Edouard (Mendy) is doing very well, he has got a steely resolve. Edouard’s qualities speak for themselves, I don’t think that anyone is doubting him, sometimes he has highs, and sometimes he has lows. He has my full trust, my blind trust, and that of his team mates. Tomorrow he will be on the pitch,” said Cisse.
Knocked out in the first round at Russia 2018, Senegal will be hoping they can do the same to Qatar today.
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