Final Clashes for the 2021 Arab Cup Promise to be Electric
The FIFA 2021 Arab Cup final and the battle for third place will kick off imminently. And, after the record crowds in attendance and electric atmosphere at the recent quarter-final and semi-final matches, the last games of the tournament, which will crown the Arab champions of the world, promise to be even more exciting.
The competition began between twenty-three Arab nations and has been contested down to the last two through a qualifier round, a Group Stage and Knockout Stage. On Qatar National Day, December 18th, Tunisia and Algeria will battle for the chance to take the title of the world's best Arab team in 2021.
Egypt and Qatar, semi-finalists of the tournament, will fight it out for third place honour.
In the first pan-Arab football tournament in almost ten years and held in Doha, Qatar, host of the FIFA 2022 World Cup in six of the country's eight new World Cup stadiums, the competition to date has been a huge success. Despite the ongoing battle against coronavirus, tens of thousands have descended on the new stadiums. Fans have converged to watch their teams perform, experience the new venues' delights, especially the recently inaugurated Al Bayt Stadium and Stadium 974, and enjoy a typical Qatari welcome. Indeed, one of the best-attended games was the Qatar vs United Arab Emirates quarter-finals match on December 10th; 63, 439 fans were in attendance that evening to raise the roof.
The opportunity to host the Arab Cup and welcome so many fans to the new stadiums has also provided Qatar with an ideal opportunity to test their venues, transport systems, logistics, security, organisation and planning for the upcoming 2022 tournament.
But, the event has not only proved popular, and a fantastic test-run for the World Cup, the football itself has been stellar. So, let's take a look at how the finals have panned out so far…
Tunisia, the second highest-rated Arab team and 29th in the world, had a mixed competition during the Group Stage. The Tunisian squad routed their first opponent Mauritania 5-1, took a 1-0 win over the UAE, but lost 2-1 to 85th ranked Syria. The team maintained first place in their group but on goal difference only. Going into the quarter-finals, the team needed a decisive win over Oman to make it through to the semi-finals. Oman, by comparison, came through the Group Stage in second place to Qatar but competed off of a highly successful World Cup qualifying campaign - making it to the final round, having beaten Japan, Asia's top team, along the way. On the day, Tunisia pipped Oman to the post 2-1. The Eagles of Carthage took an early lead over Oman but struggled to hit the target through most of the rest of the match. Oman equalised in the second half with a stunning strike, but the goal was cancelled out by a powerful header minutes later by Tunisia's Youssef Msakni. Despite a last-ditch attempt by the Omanis, Tunisia took the win and secured their place in the semis.
Unbeaten in the Group Stage, Qatar looked to maintain their 100% record in their quarter-final bout against the UAE. The UAE came through to the knockout stage in second place behind Tunisia on a goal difference. Qatar had beaten the UAE in both of their most recent matches, and they needed to beat their neighbours again to make it to the next stage of the Cup. With a huge home crowd behind them at the new Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar thumped UAE 5-0 in a decisive match. Taking an early lead in the sixth minute, Qatar dominated the game and kicked home another three goals in the first half, adding the final nail to the coffin with a fifth goal in stoppage time at the end of the second half. The emphatic win booked the Maroons their ticket all the way to the semi-finals.
Egypt finished first place over Algeria on tie-breaking criteria only during the Group Stage after successful matches against Lebanon and Sudan and a 1-1 draw against the Algerians. Jordan entered the quarter-finals as a runner-up from their Group Stage matches, falling only to the top Arab team Morocco. Egypt, 45th ranked, were favourites to win over 91st ranked Jordan but, after routing Palestine 5-1 and beating 48th ranked Saudi Arabia in the Group Stage, the Jordanians couldn't be easily discounted. Indeed, on the day, Egypt had to wait until extra time to take the win from a dominant Jordan who opened the scoring in the first half. With an equaliser in the first half and two goals in stoppage time, Egypt finally took a hard-fought 3-1 win.
Morocco, Africa's second-best team and 28th globally, were unbeaten throughout the Group Stage and entered the quarter-finals as the favourite to win. However, Algeria, 4th top African nation, ranked 32nd in the world and second in their Arab Cup group to Egypt on tie-breaking criteria only, was ready to bring the fight to the Moroccans. The battle between the African giants raged end-to-end throughout, with goals coming only from the 62nd minute onwards. Algeria opened the scoring only for Morocco to equalise minutes later. Algeria extended their lead in extra time and again had their goal cancelled out shortly afterwards by a strike from the Moroccans, sending the match to penalties. Algeria held their nerve and took the game with five penalties to three, securing their place at the semis against Qatar.
In the semi-finals, Tunisia was pitted against Egypt. The two football behemoths took the battle down to the wire, both had opportunities to go ahead, but neither could find the target or break down the other's defences. However, the deadlock was finally broken, along with the hearts of the Egyptians, when an own-goal tipped the balance in Tunisia's favour. Egypt's captain Amr Elsolia tapped a last-gasp free-kick from Tunisia into the back of the net four minutes into extra time.
Qatar took on Algeria for their semi-final bout in 'gafiya' styled stadium Al Thumama. In a hard-fought, neither side converted any chances in the first half of the game. However, in the second half, Algeria's Mohamed Belaili broke the deadlock with a strike home in the 59th. While Qatar rallied, the equaliser didn't come until the seventh minute of stoppage time with a goal from Mohammed Muntari. The game looked like it would go to penalties, but a converted penalty kick from the Algerians gave The Greens a last gasp win over the Maroons. Algeria secured their place in the final against Tunisia, while Qatar will now battle Egypt for third place.
The Deciding Games
The deciding games at the FIFA 2021 Arab Cup begin this afternoon with the third-place decider between Egypt and Qatar at 1 pm in Doha’s Stadium 974, followed by the final between Tunisia and Algeria at 6 pm in Al Khor’s Al Bayt Stadium.
Third Place Match Predictions
Historically, the battles between Egypt and Qatar have been very balanced. Coming into the third-place decider, both teams have played exceptionally well throughout the various stages of the tournament - other than their semi-final losses, Egypt registered just one loss over the competition and Qatar none. Both teams' losses in the semi-finals were at the death, one from an own goal, the other a penalty. Egypt ranked 45th in the world, and Qatar ranked 51st, are relatively evenly matched; that said, Qatar may have the edge on the day based on their performance over the Arab Cup tournament and with the home advantage.
The Final Predictions
Tunisia ranked 29th, and Algeria, ranked 32nd, are also relatively evenly matched. Having met on the field on 54 previous occasions, Algeria is slight favourites, having won twenty-two of those battles compared with Tunisia's sixteen victories. In their last head-to-head, The Green won 2-0 away. As both teams fight for the Arab champion's crown, the final match of the FIFA 2021 Arab Cup promises to be an exciting one!
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