Lessons Learned For Qatar In First Clash Against Portugal
Qatar may have left Saturday night's encounter with football's top dogs, Portugal, slightly bruised and battered, but they can take consolation in the experience and insights the match will bring to the team. Felix Sanchez's side, "a team with quality," according to Portugal coach Fernando Santos, showed glimmers of their attacking calibre and defensive ability during the game. However, under pressure, the squad's composure became fragmented. No doubt, Sanchez will look to build on the experience as Qatar continues their campaign at the European 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
The European 2022 World Cup Qualifiers
Qatar, as hosts of the FIFA 2022 World Cup, are currently facing off against some of Europe's finest in a bid to build their international experience before the 2022 tournament kicks off. The tiny nation automatically qualifies for the World Cup competition as hosts. Nonetheless, as relative newcomers to international football, they need to capitalise on every opportunity to expand their skills and tactical knowledge. Up against the world's best 32 teams in 2022, the Qatari squad will be aspiring to make their mark on the international scene and make their country proud.
As guests of Europe's football governing body UEFA, Qatar has been included in the European qualifiers tournament in Group A against Portugal, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, and Azerbaijan. Since March 2021, the 2019 Asian Champions have beaten Luxembourg and Azerbaijan and drawn with the Republic of Ireland. Their successes were reinforced by the team's great form over 2021; they made it to the CONCACAF 2021 Gold Cup semis and topped their AFC 2023 Asian Cup qualifying group. After such good fortune, their recent 4-0 loss to Serbia and 3-1 loss to Portugal will shine a harsh light on the team's shortcomings. However, at this stage of the game, that can only be a good thing.
Qatar will take on each of their group opponents for the second time in away matches across the October and November windows. Lessons learned over the last two windows can be implemented and tactics tested in the upcoming months - it all adds to the team's preparations for 2022.
The encounter against Portugal was always predicted to play out in the Portuguese side's favour. Portugal is one of the best teams in the world, with some of the world's best players amongst their ranks. The team are experienced tacticians, creative and exceptional on the attack. Meanwhile, Qatar, though they have shown that they are a threat, lacks their counterparts' confidence, experience, and composure. However, Portugal's form over the European qualifiers to date has been patchy. They won their first match of the tournament against Azerbaijan due to their opponents' own goal, were held to a draw by Serbia, and only managed a win against Ireland in the match's dying minutes. Plus, the team were coming from a disappointing result at the EURO 2020s - they were forced out in the Round of 16. So, though the odds before the match were heavily weighted towards the Seleção, the Qatari team were deemed in a position to cause an upset, especially since the Portuguese side would be missing their star player and goal scorer Christiano Ronaldo.
On the day, Qatar kicked off their match on a positive note. The Maroons held a solid defensive line against the Portuguese for the first twenty minutes and were quick on the counter-attack. They took several shots at the opposition's posts, though none hit home. However, once Portugal found their rhythm, their attacking quality outclassed the Qataris. Within the first twenty-four minutes of the first half. Portugal found the Qatari goal twice. Andre Silva, tipped as Ronaldo's replacement when he retires, nodded the goal past Qatari keeper Mashaal Barsham to open the scoring in the 23rd minute. One minute later, Portuguese midfielder Otavio slotted his header to the back of the net.
The quick succession of Portuguese goals seemed to unsettle the Maroons, whose defensive line fell into disarray. The Portuguese held the Qataris in their own half for the majority of the rest of the first half. The two-goal lead allowed A Seleção to be more creative, exploiting Qatari players' mistakes and keeping pressure on their goal. That pressure paid off in the end as Barsham tripped Goncalo Guedes inside the D as Guedes tried to go around him and take a shot at the goal. The incident ended with Barsham being shown the red card and sent off the pitch, leaving Qatar ten men.
The second half began as the first half ended, with Portuguese possession in the Qatari half - the match looked like it might descend into another heavy defeat for Qatar. However, despite losing midfielder Abdul Al Ahrak to sub Qatari goalkeeper Yousef Hassan, Qatar fought on and finally pulled one back in the 61st minute. Akram Afif, one of Qatar's top goalscorers and playmakers, put in a great cross to Abdelkarim Hassan, who headed the ball to the back of the net. Qatar showed their attacking quality with aplomb.
The Qatari goal seemed to settle the players and give them a much-needed confidence boost. The team enjoyed a good spell of possession and success in closing Portugal down much higher up the field for a short time. However, plenty of substitutions, including Portugal bringing on top players Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Jota, changed the game's fortunes again. Fernandes piled the pressure on Qatar with shot after shot at goal. In a bid to close him down, Tarek Salman clipped the back of the substitute's heels and gave away a penalty. Fernandes didn't miss on this occasion, scoring Portugal's third and final goal of the evening in the 88th minute. Boualem Khoukhi was then sent off for his reaction to the penalty award leading to Portugal's third goal, leaving his team to play out the dying minutes with nine men. Hassan fended off a final attempt by Portugal to hit the back of the net before full-time was called.
Onwards and Upwards
The contest against Portugal was a difficult one. The Portuguese players upped their game for the match - the players had something to prove. With Christiano Ronaldo given leave from international duty and Santos resting some of his key players in preparation for their upcoming game against Azerbaijan, lesser-played squad members such as Andre Silva and Goncalo Guedes will have been keen to make their mark. The Seleção are also a quality, top-ranked team - it was never going to be an easy match.
However, Qatar showed many of their developing talents and why they are increasingly becoming considered a good team despite the loss. They can uphold a good defensive strategy and pose a robust counter-attacking threat. They are a balanced team and show good organisation. Nonetheless, Sanchez will be asking the team to reflect on their performance in terms of composure and defensive discipline under pressure, dissent and conceding goals through avoidable mistakes.
Going forward, the team can learn from their last two defeats and use the experiences to improve their strategies, tactics and performances. After all, the learning experience is what their entry to the European qualifiers is all about.
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