By Sports Reporter/Doha
This Qatar team is surely made of steel.
Imagine playing in a country so hostile that home spectators forget the basics of sportsmanship and subject you to unrelenting abuse.
Imagine playing in front of a crowd among whom there are hardly any Qataris due to travel restrictions and other obstacles imposed by the hosts.
Imagine a tournament which journalists from your country cannot cover from up close because they are banned in sheer disregard of international norms.
But then this is sport, which has a habit of imitating life and dealing you a blow from which you can hardly recover.
Bahrain, one of the blockading countries were knocked out by South Korea. Three-times Saudi Arabia suffered at the hands of Qatar in the group phase and then were bundled out by Japan in the round of 16.
Only the UAE remains, but they must be wary of bad karma catching up as they are lined up to face Australia.
Amid the mayhem, it’s Qatar which is standing tall. Its young players have caught the fancy of fans worldwide. Almoez Ali is already the top scorer, with the Asian Cup record within his sights. Coach Felix Sanchez, who was earlier in charge of the juniors, is now a much-admired man and possibly will be flooded with lucrative offers.
Qatar’s young star Bassam al-Rawi, meanwhile, created his own piece of history, scoring the team’s only goal against Iraq yesterday. His father Hisham had played for Iraq in the 1990s. Iraq, the 2007 champions, gave their all but paid the price for failing to take their chances and departed the continental tournament before the quarter-final stage for the first time since 1972.“I thought it was a great performance from both teams,” said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez.
“I just congratulate the players for their performance against one of the best teams in the competition.”
Qatar, who scored 10 goals and conceded none in the group stage, made the brighter start and left back Abdelkarim Hassan hit the bar in the fourth minute.
That was pretty much the extent of their threat on goal until he had a shot deflected onto the post just before the break, though, as the Qataris were muscled out of the game in midfield.
Iraq fared little better at the other end with Mohanad Ali having their best chance of breaking the deadlock in the 23rd minute as the 2007 champions started to make some progress with the ball over the top of the Qatari defence. The young striker raced through on goal but Saad al-Sheeb bravely dived at his feet, with the goalkeeper getting a boot to the face for his efforts.
A defensive error put Qatar winger Akram Afif through early in the second half but his touch woefully betrayed him, and the ball trickled harmlessly to Iraq keeper Jalal Hassan.
It was a foul on the dangerous Afif on the left-hand corner of the box that led to the breakthrough just after the hour mark, defender Bassam stepping up and curling the ball over the wall and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
The Qataris were charged with confidence by the goal and poured forward to pepper Hassan’s goal with shots in the next 10 minutes before Iraq regained their grip on the midfield.
Iraq defender Ali Adnan went close to matching Bassam’s effort from a free kick slightly further out in the 78th minute and twice Iraqi forwards flashed headers wide as they laid siege to the Qatar goal in the last few minutes. But the Qataris held them out to register a fourth clean sheet in four matches at the tournament, almost outnumbering their small band of fans when they celebrated with them at the end.
“I think the game was equal,” said Iraq coach Srecko Katanec. “We pushed, we pushed but we didn’t score. The players gave everything. That’s it.”
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