Qatar Defeated in Penultimate European Qualifier Against Serbia
Qatar national football team played their second to last European qualifier match on November 11th, winding down over seven months of friendlies as guests of the UEFA European 2022 World Cup qualification tournament. Having lost out 4-0 to Serbia back in September, the Maroons would have been hoping to give the Serbians a taste of their own medicine and close out their competition with a bang. However, Serbia’s attacking talent - a problem for many opponents - proved too much for the team from the Middle East who left the pitch 4-0 down to The Eagles.
Qatar’s European Qualifiers
With an automatic ticket to their first-ever World Cup - due to hosting the 2022 tournament in just 12 months - Qatar was invited to participate in the European qualifiers to gain international experience. Of the ten tournament groups (Groups A to J), each containing five to six teams playing a round-robin of home and away matches, the Qatari squad were placed in Group A alongside opponents Portugal, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.
While Qatar’s overall points don’t count towards the final standings, the 2019 Asian Cup champions began the competition well with two wins and a draw, leaving them in third place at the end of the March break. Their unbeaten run ended in September after facing off and losing to Serbia, then to Europe’s number eight, Portugal at home (3-1). Fortunately, a draw with Luxembourg saw the team maintain their position on the table. However, another loss to Portugal away (3-0) in October placed the Maroons in a precarious position - Ireland, after some humiliating defeats, was creeping up the table and looking to leapfrog Qatar into third. A determined Irish team did just that at the end of the October break leaving Qatar in fourth before their final clash against Serbia.
Serbia vs Qatar
Playing away at Serbia’s Rajko Mitić Stadium, previously known as Red Star Stadium, the Qatari team faced a difficult opponent in Belgrade. Serbia, ranked 25th in the world, may have played some less experienced squad members, but the team still featured enough craft, ingenuity, know-how and strength to put the Qataris on the back foot.
On the day, Qatar entered the fray early with a shot from striker Mohammed Muntari in the first minute - a stout Serbian defence blocked the plucky attempt punted from outside the box. The Serbian response was swift, with four shots on the Qatari goal in the next ten minutes. While one attempt from Luka Jović went high and wide, the other three endeavours were thwarted by an on-the-ball Saad Al-Sheeb in goal and the Qatari’s defensive wall.
Buoyed by the Serbs’ frustration, Qatar quickly stepped up their game and went on the attack. Al Moez Ali struck on multiple occasions over the next ten minutes, but the ball was blocked and deflected by a reactive Serbian team. Boualem Khoukhi and Abdulaziz Hatem also took aim at The Eagles goal but failed to find their mark.
The stalemate between the teams continued for the majority of the first half. However, the Qataris couldn’t hold the Serbs to a goalless result into the interval. Serbian forward Sasa Lukić found the opening goal off of a rebound inside the box in the 46th minute to take the score to 1-0. The shot was a blow to the Qataris confidence going into the break, having performed well in the first 45.
The second half began in a similar vein to the first, with Qatar’s Mohammed Waad punting a shot towards the goal from outside the box in the 5th minute. However, the Serbian goalkeeper Vanja Milinković-Savić made the save. Once again, Serbia was spurred into action with Luka Jović slamming home the second goal of the evening just one minute later. And, despite earlier flashes of Qatar’s defending ability, the Maroons defensive line broke down as panic spread through the team. Three minutes after goal number two, Sasa Lukić substitute Dusan Valhović, left alone inside the box, took the advantage and sent home a third shot to the back of the net for Serbia.
Over the next half an hour, the action reached both ends of the pitch. Qatar tried to claw its way back into the game with shots from Ali Assadalla, Ro-Ro, Abdelkarim Hassan and Ahmed Alaaeldin, and Serbia tried to extend their 3-0 lead even further. Finally, Serbia’s Sergej Milinković-Savić struck from inside the box in the 83rd to win 4-0.
Overall, Serbia was the more dominant team, and the match was a relatively comfortable win for them. Up against a strong national team, so far unbeaten in their qualifying campaign, Qatar showed some good attacking play and defensive qualities in the first half. However, under pressure, organisation at the back gave way, and they handed Serbia numerous opportunities on a plate.
Undoubtedly, Qatar will be shaken from their loss to Serbia, especially on the back of several matches without a win. The Asian Champions came into the competition on a high from a successful Asian 2022 qualifying campaign and success at the CONCACAF 2021 Gold Cup (they reached the semi-finals and lost to the USA only by a single goal). But, despite a solid start to the European qualifiers, the team has been hammered in the last five out of six matches. However, regardless of the recent result, Qatar will have benefited from their experiences in Europe. The opportunity will have given both players and management plenty of food for thought as they head towards their debut at the 2022 World Cup. There are plenty of lessons to be learned about their style and pace of play, technical abilities, and defensive response to pressure. Going forward, the team will need to put their disappointment behind them and aim for a win over Azerbaijan, their last opponent in the European qualifiers, on November 14th. A victory to end the tournament would lift the teams’ spirits and boost their confidence ahead of their next test, the 2021 Arab Cup that begins on November 30th.
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