Qatar waited 12 years to host the World Cup, but it may have taken just six days for the host country to be eliminated. 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 relegate Qatar to unwanted World Cup history as the first host country to be eliminated after two games.
Qatar, however, scored one goal and offered much more fight in the second half than their first loss to Ecuador. Mohammed Muntari produced the historic moment of Qatar’s first World Cup goal with a sublime 78th-minute header, giving the home fans faint hopes of a comeback. Six minutes later Bamba Dieng quickly put the situation to rest as the substitute restored Senegal’s two-goal lead.
The hosts will wish they were braver from the start. Once again, Felix Sanchez’s side lacked quality and ambition, while defensive mistakes sealed their fall and left Qatar very exposed on the pitch.
Senegal’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages remain alive, but this performance didn’t 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 lost their inspiration and if Qatar had released it sooner, it might have added more doubts in their minds. Qatar’s latest counterattack was too late and their fate was already sealed.
Senegal’s first goal came as the most generous of gifts from the World Cup hosts, and will perhaps be remembered as the moment to symbolize Qatar’s efforts: unfortunate, hopeless and found completely beyond their reach. Boualem Khoukh’s painful attempt to clear saw the ball land in Boulaye Dia’s path and from there Qatar had no way back.
Perhaps the turning point came moments earlier when they were denied a penalty to make it 0-0. Akram Afif was played on goal in the left channel but fell to Ismaila Sarr’s challenge. Instead of trying to shoot, Afif extended his right leg and made contact from behind. Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz remained unmoved and any suggestion that the hosts would receive favorable treatment at the World Cup was dismissed.
The stakes were already clear for two teams that opened with losses. The pace of the noise produced by the bouncing group of Qatari supporters and the traveling band of Senegalese drummers across the stadium was rather offset by the performance of two teams who have low confidence and know their World Cup hopes are contact.
Qatar remained fixated in their defensive form in the opening stages, with Senegal controlling possession but again looking short on cutting edges. Sarr and Krepin Diatta, having swapped wings since Senegal’s opening match, tried to fit into the cracks in the side of Qatar’s centre-backs. Reserve goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham, who came on for Saad Abdullah al-Sheeb Barsham, had his first moment of discomfort when he came on and hammered in a Senegalese corner, with Famara Diedhiou heading wide of the open goal. Idrissa Gueye then came closer after driving narrowly wide but Qatar looked to be doing enough to stay in the game.
But their hopes of reaching half-time level were dashed when Khoukhi attempted to put out. The defender was 20 when Qatar won the 2010 World Cup and had made 106 caps for his country to date. His panic, however, when he tried to clear a simple and innocuous cross from Senegal’s left wing is hard to explain. Khoukhi slipped, the ball was deflected off his backside and landed in Dia’s path. The finish was unforgiving and gave Barsham no chance. Neither did Diedhiou shortly after the break when the ex-Bristol City forward met a recessed corner kick to go home to the front post.
It looked like the game was over, but Senegal’s Edouard Mendy was the busier of the two goalkeepers after the break. Abdelkarim Hassan’s long-range strike sent Mendy diving to his left, with Almoez Ali netting Qatar’s first shot on target of the World Cup after 165 minutes of action. Senegal coach Aliou Cisse had backed Mendy after his costly mistakes in Senegal’s first defeat by the Netherlands and the goalkeeper later offered a reminder of his instinctive brilliance to block off Ismail Mohamad’s close-range shot.
It seemed that Qatar had finally arrived and it only brings 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 which concluded an excellent play from back to front, with Mohamad’s cross finding its way between the Senegalese central defenders.
For a moment hopes seemed to be rekindled, but six minutes later thoughts of staging a late comeback were quickly put aside when Dieng scored Senegal’s third goal. He rather flattered Cisse’s team on second-half basis, but Senegal were also able to tear Qatar apart when they needed to. Qatar will play their final group match against the Netherlands on Tuesday, still looking for their first points of the tournament. If the results go against them tonight, that will be all they can play for.