Qatar Victorious As FIFA 2021 Arab Cup Group Stage Concludes
After the success of Qatar's FIFA 2021 Arab Cup opening ceremony on November 30th, the tournament's Group Stage delivered a week's worth of football that equally delighted the crowds in attendance. Sixteen teams began the week, and after plenty of excitement and some unexpected performances, only eight remain. One of only two nations to maintain a 100% unbeaten record over the seven days, Qatar won their place in the upcoming Knockout Stage after three straight wins. They now join the seven other Group Stage victors, Oman, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and Algeria, for the quarter-finals round.
The 2021 Competition
The 2021 tournament, a pan-Arab competition that pits Africa and Asia's strongest in a battle for the title of Arab Champions, began with 23 nations. Nine countries automatically qualified for the Group Stage based on their April 2021 FIFA ranking. The remaining fourteen teams played in a single-leg qualifying stage consisting of seven matches; the seven winning squads joined the top nine in the Group Stage (Round of 16).
The sixteen Group Stage teams were split into four groups of four. Each group held a round-robin of matches from November 30th to December 7th to decide on the top two teams to advance to the Knockouts. Those eight will now fight it out in the quarter-finals on December 10th and 11th.
The four winning teams from the quarter-finals will go through to the semi-finals on the 15th. The semi-finals teams will contest a place in the final on the 18th (Qatar National Day) for a chance to be crowned champions of the Arab footballing world.
The Group Stage
The Group Stage, which consisted of twenty-four matches across seven days, offered plenty of thrilling football as the sixteen teams battled to take their places in the group standings - only the top two from each group could advance to the next stage.
From the get-go, Morocco and Qatar took the top spots in their groups, A and C, and maintained their positions with three wins from three each. Meanwhile, Oman and Iraq jostled for Group A's second-place spot, with the Omanis taking a last-game lead with a win against Bahrain and Iraq’s loss against Qatar. In Group C, Jordan slipped relatively easily into second-position with two wins to Morocco's three.
Group B's Tunisia and the UAE and Group D's Algeria and Egypt, whilst their qualification to the quarter-finals was never really in doubt, had to face one another in their final matches of the round. Finishing in first place rather than second would give the winner the best possible draw in the quarter-finals. Tunisia pipped the UAE to the post with a slim win. While Egypt, after ending level with Algeria on every metric except Fair Play points, took first place over their rivals.
Qatar, Iraq, Oman and Bahrain
Qatar, who came to the tournament off of a rollercoaster friendly campaign in Europe, was on top form. Their opening match of the Group Stage was against neighbour Bahrain, who they hadn't beaten since 2002. They took a slim but essential 1-0 victory and went straight to the top of their group standings on three points after Oman and Iraq drew 1-1 in their first bout of the round.
Qatar's second match of the Group Stage was against Oman. The Maroons dominated the first half and picked up the first and only goal of the initial 45 minutes. Oman equalised in the second half and managed to hold Qatar off enough for a draw and a share of the points to look most likely. However, an own-goal by the Omanis put Qatar ahead of the pack on six points. That same day, Iraq's win over Bahrain left Oman in third place on a single point.
In the final match of the round, Qatar faced a challenging game against four-time Arab Cup winner Iraq. While the Iraqis dominated the first half of the game, the Maroons hit the second half all-guns-blazing and took the match 3-0 with three late goals in the final 12 minutes. Iraq's loss and Oman's 3-0 win over Bahrain meant that Oman slipped into second place and qualified for the quarter-finals over Iraq.
Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Syria and Mauritania
The second highest-rated team amongst the Arab nations, Tunisia started well with a comprehensive 5-1 win over African minnows Mauritania. The win saw the football giants sit at the top of their group on three points. The UAE also ended the group's first matchday on three points, just behind Tunisia on goal difference, after a 2-1 win against Syria.
However, Tunisia's fortunes took a turn for the worse after a mid-contest 2-0 loss to Syria on the second matchday for the group. The team dropped down to second place ahead of Syria on goal difference only. Meanwhile, the UAE moved into first-place on six points with a 1-0 victory over Mauritania.
Tunisia took on the UEA in a must-win match for their final bout of the round. If they had failed to beat their rivals and Syria had whipped Mauritania, Tunisia would have been out of the competition. As it was, the Carthage Eagles took a narrow 1-0 victory over a very determined UAE, giving them six points and the top spot on goal difference. Syria lost 2-1 to Mauritania.
Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine
Top Arab team, Morocco, led their group from day one of the round and finished with a 100% unbeaten record and a clean sheet. They began with a 4-0 rout of Palestine, followed by another 4-0 win, this time over Jordan. They went into their final match of the round on six points, three ahead of second-placed Jordan, who beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in an end-to-end game on their first outing. In their second match, Palestine and Saudi drew 1-1, gaining just a point each.
The final day saw Morocco face Saudi Arabia. While the Moroccans were the more dominant team, they had to work hard for their 1-0 victory and their final three points. Despite their earlier loss to Morocco, Jordan finished in second place on six points after routing Palestine 5-1.
Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan
African heavyweights Algeria and Egypt battled for first place in the group standings from the starting whistle. Algeria began their contest by thumping Sudan 4-0, while Egypt took a narrow 1-0 victory over a resolute Lebanon. The goal difference between the pair gave Algeria the edge and the top spot.
Algeria battled against Lebanon's stout defence on the group's second matchday and managed a 2-0 win. Egypt took their opportunity for a high scoring game against Sudan, earning a 5-0 win, putting them level with the Algerians.
The final day's matches saw Algeria and Egypt go head-to-head in a crucial encounter to decide first and second place and qualifying positions going into the next round. With very few goal-scoring opportunities, Algeria managed a single first-half lead in an end-to-end game, leaving Egypt wanting into the second 45. However, a 60-minute penalty gave Egypt the equaliser. Neither side made any more progress, ending the game on a 1-1 draw and the top spot down to the competition's tie-breaking criteria.
The quarter-finals will be held on December 10th and 11th, deciding which four of the eight remaining teams will advance to the semi-finals.
Tunisia and Oman will open the quarter-finals round in the early evening of the 10th at Education City Stadium. Qatar's bout with the UAE will be held shortly after at 10 pm in Al Khor's Al Bayt Stadium. The next day Egypt will kick off against Jordan at 6 pm at Al Janoub Stadium. And finally, Morocco will face off against Alergia at 10 pm at Al Thumama Stadium.
The winners of the Tunisia vs Oman match on the 10th and the Egypt vs Jordan game on the 11th will face one another in one of two semi-final matches on the 15th. The other semi-final will be a head-to-head between the winners of the Qatar vs UAE battle on the 10th and the Morocco vs Algeria game on the 11th.
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