After Qatar suffered a heartbreaking loss to Algeria in the FIFA Arab Cup semi-finals on Wednesday night, head coach Felix Sanchez praised the spirit of his players.
Qatar had fought back from 1-0 down with Algeria scoring their winner in the 17th minute of second half stoppage time at Al Thumama Stadium. Algeria will play Tunisia in tomorrow’s final with Qatar taking on Egypt in the third-place playoff.
The match between the reigning Asian and African champions kicked off with Qatar looking to make it their fifth consecutive win but neither side could find a breakthrough in a tight first half.
Algeria, however, started the second half with more vigour and took the lead in the 59th minute with Djamel Benlamri putting them ahead. Qatar poured forward in search of the equaliser and were given hope when nine minutes of stoppage time were added and the home fans erupted in joy when substitute Mohamed Muntari rose highest to nod home the equaliser in the 97th minute.
A VAR review added more minutes and Algeria capitalised at the very end, with Mohamed Belaili scoring off the rebound after his penalty had been saved in the 18th minute of stoppage time.
“We did the difficult thing by coming back into the match with a late goal. It was a very challenging task but the team showed great fighting spirit,” Sanchez said. “I cannot blame the players as they made every effort in the match. An individual mistake cost us the penalty. I will tell them better luck,” he added.
The Qatar coach thanked fans for showing tremendous support for Al Annabi throughout their matches. “We thank the fans who stood behind us and supported us in the match and all the matches we played in the tournament. I am disappointed because we disappointed our fans. Now we will focus on the third place match and give our best effort to finish the tournament on a high note,” Sanchez added.
Qatar’s Ismaeel Mohamed apologised to fans and said the team will give their best in third-place play off. “We played a great match but luck was not on our side. We were desperate for a victory in front of our fans. The support we received from them is indescribable and we apologise for the defeat,” the midfielder said.
Qatari defender Bassam al-Rawi, meanwhile, said the team lacked luck in the dramatic semi-final as his team conceded a penalty just before the extra time. “We did our best during the match, but we were not lucky in the last moments,” said al-Rawi.
The defender, however, hoped his team will come back stronger in the future challenges. “We were unfortunate but it is part of football. We will have to forget the defeat and move forward by learning from our mistakes,” he said.
Meanwhile, Algerian coach Madjid Bougherra was thrilled to get past a tough opponent like Qatar. “I am very happy to reach the final. It was a tough challenge from the home team but we knew it will be a difficult match,” said Bougherra.
The coach played down a spat among players from both the sides following Muntari’s goal in stoppage time. “It was a difficult match for both the teams. Such things are normal in football given its sensitivity, difficulty and importance,” he said.
The 39-year-old said his team is focusing on tomorrow’s final against Tunisia, who edged past Egypt after a last-gasp own goal. “Our last three matches were very tough. We played tough matches against Egypt, Morocco and Qatar. The team showed great determination in those demanding matches. It is going to be another tough match for us and we will prepare for that well,” he said.
“Our recent experience of playing against top sides of the tournament will help us,” Bougherra added. Algeria’s Djamel Benlamri said: “It is a huge match because both teams will be eyeing glory. It is another tough test for us but we will prepare for it appropriately.”      
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