Qatar waited 12 years to host the World Cup, but it may have taken just six days for the host country to be knocked out. A 3-1 defeat to Senegal means Qatar are now at the mercy of the Netherlands: a win or draw against Ecuador this afternoon would consign Qatar to some unwanted World Cup history as the first host country to be knocked out after two matches.
Qatar, though, did score a goal and offered much more fight in the second half than they did in their opening defeat to Ecuador. Mohammed Muntari produced the historic moment of Qatar’s first World Cup goal with a sublime header on 78 minutes, allowing the home supporters faint hope of a comeback. It was swiftly put to bed by Bamba Dieng six minutes later, as the substitute restored Senegal’s two-goal lead.
The hosts will be left to regret not being braver from the start. Once again, Felix Sanchez’s side lacked quality and ambition, while defensive mistakes sealed their downfall and left Qatar looking badly exposed on the pitch.
Senegal’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stages remain alive but this was not a performance to encourage much else. This Group A clash may have been a meeting of the champions of Asia and Africa but it was a contest of two poor teams. Without Sadio Mane, Senegal have drained of inspiration and if Qatar released that earlier then they might have added more doubt into their minds. Qatar’s late fightback was too late and by then, their fate was already sealed.
Senegal’s opener came as the most generous of gifts from the World Cup hosts, and perhaps will be remembered as the moment to symbolise Qatar’s efforts: hapless, hopeless and found to be completely out of their depth. Boualem Khoukh’s woeful attempt at a clearance saw the ball land in the path of Boulaye Dia and from there, Qatar had no way back.
Perhaps the turning point came moments earlier when they were denied a penalty at 0-0. Akram Afif was played through on goal in the left channel but went down under the challenge of Ismaila Sarr. Rather than trying to shoot, Afif put out his right leg and took the contact from behind. The referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz was unmoved and any assumptions of the hosts receiving favourable treatment at their World Cup were dismissed.
The stakes were already clear for two sides who opened with defeats. The rhythm of noise produced by the bouncing pack of Qatar fans and the travelling band of Senegalese drummers at the other end of the stadium was rather offset by the performance of two teams who are low on confidence and know their World Cup hopes are numbered.
Qatar remained fixed in their defensive shape in the opening stages, with Senegal controlling possession but once again looking short of a cutting edge. Sarr and Krepin Diatta, having swapped flanks from Senegal’s opening game, tried to drive into the gaps to the side of Qatar’s centre backs. The back-up goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham, who came in for Saad Abdullah al-Sheeb Barsham, had his first uneasy moment as he came and flapped at a Senegal corner, with Famara Diedhiou heading wide of the open goal. Idrissa Gueye then came closest after driving narrowly wide but Qatar looked to be doing enough to stay in the match.
But their hopes of reaching half-time level came crashing down as Khoukhi attempted to hack clear. The defender was 20 when Qatar were awarded the World Cup back in 2010 and had made 106 appearances for his country, building to this moment. His panic, though, when trying to clear a simple and harmless cross from the Senegal left flank is hard to explain. Khoukhi slipped, the ball deflected off his backside and fell into the path of Dia. The finish was ruthless and did not give Barsham a chance. Neither did Diedhiou shortly after the break when the former Bristol City striker met an inswinging corner to head home at the front post.
It looked to be game over but Senegal’s Edouard Mendy was the busier of the two goalkeepers after the break. Abdelkarim Hassan’s shot from distance had Mendy diving to his left, with Almoez Ali landing Qatar’s first shot on target of the World Cup after 165 minutes of action. Senegal manager Aliou Cisse had backed Mendy following his costly mistakes in Senegal’s opening defeat to the Netherlands and the goalkeeper then offered a reminder of his instinctive brilliance to keep out Ismail Mohamad’s bobbled effort from close range.
It felt like Qatar had finally arrived and it only puts into question why they had been so cautious. Sanchez’s team had started to play and Muntari gave Mendy no chance with his downward header finishing off an excellent move from back to front, with Mohamad’s cross finding the gap between the Senegal centre backs.
For a moment their hopes looked restored but thoughts of staging a late comeback were swiftly cast aside six minutes later when Dieng swept in Senegal’s third. It rather flattered Cisse’s side on the basis of the second half but Senegal were also able to cut Qatar apart when they needed to. Qatar will go into their final group game against the Netherlands on Tuesday still searching for their first points of the tournament. If results go against them tonight, it will be all they have left to play for.