Qatar's Window at European Qualifiers Ends with Two Wins and A Draw
During the last week of March, Qatar’s notable performance at the 2022 European Qualifiers will ensure that the national team return home to much fanfare. The Qatari squad’s credibility in Europe has also rocketed - indeed, as one European publication reported during the tournament, “Qatar are a good side. Underestimate them at your peril.”
Over three match days, Qatar produced two wins and a draw: 1 - 0 against Luxembourg, 2 - 1 against Azerbaijan and, most recently, 1 - 1 against the Republic of Ireland.
The Arab Game in Europe
Qatar's participation in the European World Cup qualifiers has been arranged to provide the Arab team with more international competitive experience ahead of the 2022 tournament. Qatar joins Group A in the knock-out round alongside Portugal, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.
As hosts, the national team automatically qualifies for the 2022 event - a position the team has yet to achieve on its own merit. However, the current squad has made significant progress in recent years, most notably its ascension to AFC Asian Champions in 2019. A good result at the World Cup would cement the country's efforts to raise its profile in the footballing world. So, any opportunity to grow the team's experience and expand its tactical knowledge of its opponents, especially some of the world's best in Europe, is worth exploiting - and during the opening matchdays of the qualifiers, the Al Annabi Boys have done just that.
Qatar's first two matches, on paper, should both have resulted in wins. Luxembourg, whom the Qataris met on March 24th, is ranked 98th in the current FIFA rankings. Azerbaijan is ranked just 108th. Both European teams have struggled to improve their standings in international football in recent years. However, Azerbaijan managed to hold off Portugal (ranked 5th in the world) during the team's first qualifying bout on the 24th - the Portuguese only managed a win due to an own goal from Azerbaijan - which must have given the Qatari squad something to think about before their meeting on the 27th. Notwithstanding, the Maroons defensive tactics kept the Luxembourgers at bay during their contest. And, they saw off the Azerbaijanis, coming back from one-nil down, with a supremely confident display in the second half of their match.
On March 30th, the Qatari squad finished the tournament's opening round with a draw against the Republic of Ireland. The Boys in Green stand 43rd in the FIFA rankings and, before the start of the qualifiers competition, were predicted to challenge the Qatari team, despite the Irish team's struggle through 2020's international matches almost goal-less. In their first 2022 qualifiers match, the Irish gave a good performance against Serbia, losing only two goals to three. However, the team was mortified a few days later after a defeat on home turf by Luxembourg. For the Qataris, going into their match against the Irish, the odds were beginning to look much better.
The Match - Qatar vs Republic of Ireland
Qatar and the Republic of Ireland went head to head in a neutral venue on the evening of Tuesday 30th, Nagyerdei Stadion in Hungary.
The Irish made a confident and lively start to the match, taking the lead over the Maroons after just four minutes of play. Irish winger James McClean hammered the ball home from a well-delivered corner, giving The Boys in Green hope for their first win of the tournament.
The Qataris responded to the early goal with plenty of attacking play. However, possession remained pretty even between the two opposing teams for the rest of the first half. Despite numerous attempts at goal from both sides, the score remained 1 - 0 going into half time - a first for the Irish in seventeen games.
The second half began in much the same format as the first but this time with the Maroons' finding goal. Two minutes into play, Qatari forward Mohammed Muntari drove a shot to the back off the net from 18 yards out, equalising the score. Buoyed by the goal, the Qataris continued with a spirited performance. They held off the Irish, including a couple of close calls in the penalty area, until the final whistle blew.
Up and Coming Games
Qatar will meet the final teams in Group A, Portugal and Serbia during the September 2021 window. And, though the Qataris matches are friendlies only, meaning the results on either side do not go towards qualification, if points were counted, the Maroons would now be sitting pretty behind Serbia and Portugal in the standings. Not a bad position to be in going up against two of Europe's top 30 teams!
In Other News
So far on Matchday 3, the action out in the field has brought some teams ever closer to qualifying, but for others, the tables have turned in the wrong direction, and, as is often the case, there have been a few surprises.
Having only narrowly beaten Azerbaijan in its first match of the tournament and having drawn with Serbia, Portugal needed a good win against Luxembourg on the 30th to improve its position standings. That target looked to be in peril 30 minutes into the game as Luxembourg's Gerson Rodrigues slotted in a header to open the scoring. However, Portugal recovered from the shock to boot home three goals. One in the first half from Diogo Jota and two in the second half from Ronaldo and João Palhinha. The Portuguese currently sit at the top of their group (Group A), ahead of Serbia on a goal difference.
Wales also managed to win a vital 1 - 0 victory against the Czech Republic. The Welsh were trounced by the Belgians during their first tournament match and needed a win to keep their hopes of qualifying alive. The win came in the form of a header from Dan James, via a cross from Gareth Bale, in the game's dying minutes. The Welsh now sit third in their group (Group E) behind the Czechs and the Belgians.
Both Turkey and Russia failed to maintain the 100% tournament record they had each earned so far. Having beaten both Holland and Norway previously, the Turks' record was broken by the Latvians, whose tournament up to that point was barely limping along. The Latvian comeback, which saw the teams draw 3 - 3, hasn't kept the Turkish team from the top of their group (Group G) but did lose them valuable points. The Russians meanwhile tasted their first defeat at the hands of the Slovakians. Slovakia's Robert Mak took the 1 - 1 score to 2 - 1 in the 74th minute of the game to win the team its first victory in the competition. The Russians sit in second place within their group (Group H) on six points, just behind the Croatians, who are ahead on goal difference.
The Croatians, 2018 World Cup runners-up, managed to stay at the top of the standings but only after making three substitutions who each found the goal in the last 30 minutes of the game. Up until that point, Malta had managed to hold their opponents off quite successfully.
The big wins on the third matchday of the tournament came from Belgium and the Netherlands. Belgium thumped Belarus 8 - 0, leaving them languishing in fourth place in Group E. The Dutch, who were only 1 - 0 up against Gibraltar at half time, came out for the second half with renewed purpose. They proceeded to thrash the Gibraltarian minnows booting home a further five goals.
- Azerbaijan vs Serbia: 1 - 2
- Luxembourg vs Portugal: 1 - 3
- Wales vs Czech Republic: 1 - 0
- Belgium vs Belarus: 8 - 0
- Gibraltar vs Netherlands: 0 - 7
- Montenegro vs Norway: 0 - 1
- Turkey vs Latvia: 3 - 3
- Cyprus vs Slovenia: 1 - 0
- Croatia vs Malta: 3 - 0
- Slovakia vs Russia: 2 - 1
Matchday 3 continues on, March 31st, from 6 pm (CET).
- Greece vs Georgia, Stadio Toumbas - 6 pm
- Spain vs Kosovo, Estadio de La Cartuja - 8:45 pm
- Lithuania vs Italy, LFF Stadium - 8:45 pm
- Northern Ireland vs Bulgaria, Windsor Park - 8:45 pm
- Ukraine vs Kazakhstan, NSC Olimpiyskiy - 8:45 pm
- Bosnia & Herzegovina vs France, Stadion Grbavica - 8:45 pm
- Moldova vs Israel, Zimbru Stadium - 8:45 pm
- Austria vs Denmark, Ernst Happel Stadion - 8:45 pm
- Scotland vs Faroe Islands, Hampden Park - 8:45 pm
- Andorra vs Hungary, Estadia Nacional - 8:45 pm
- England vs Poland, Wembley Stadium - 8:45 pm
- San Marino vs Albania, San Marino Stadium - 8:45 pm
- Armenia vs Romania, Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium - 8:45 pm
Liechtenstein vs Iceland, Rheinpark Stadion - 8:45 pm
Discover more about Qatar’s first tournament match against Luxembourg, read our World Cup 2022 European Qualifiers - Qatar’s Debut Match Success article.
Find out how Qatar got on against Azerbaijan at the European Qualifiers, read our Qatar’s Second Outing at the European 2022 Qualifiers Ends with a Win article.
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