Thrilling FIFA 2021 Arab Cup Concludes On Qatar National Day
Fireworks, military parades, flybys and shotgun salutes, as well as a host of activities across the nation, began and continued throughout the day yesterday to celebrate Qatar National Day. The commemorative celebrations continued to escalate the general excitement surrounding the preparations for the FIFA 2021 Arab Cup final and third-place matches in the afternoon and early evening.
The holiday marks the unification of Qatar in 1878 under the leadership of the country's founder, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani. The nation's current leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, marked the day by praising its people and all those living in Qatar for making it a prosperous place. A fitting tribute to all those united in preparing for the FIFA World Cup Qatar, part of which has been hosting the 2021 Arab Cup - seen as a test run event leading up to the 2022 tournament.
As the first match of the day took place, thousands of fans, supporters and revellers took their places in the stands of the brand new World Cup arena, Stadium 974, to watch the Qatari national team battle and win against their rivals for third-place, Egypt. Many, many more gathered at Al Bayt Stadium, a tent-like structure that honours Qatari and Arab culture, to watch as Algeria fought tenacious opponents, Tunisia in the final to win their first title as world Arab football champions.
Egypt and Qatar took to the field, having lost their battles to Tunisia and Algeria in the semi-finals. However, none of the disappointment they felt in narrowly missing out on the final showed as the two teams battled valiantly for over an hour and twenty minutes for the honour of third-place, going down to penalties for the eventual win.
The meeting was only their 8th in their history. The two teams stepped onto the pitch relatively evenly matched in terms of their performances throughout the competition, history, and world rankings. Indeed, they had almost equal possession of the ball throughout the game and were equally frustrated as neither could break down the other's defences to open the scoring. Egypt created the most chances, especially in the second half, but the home team was resilient.
The first half of the match saw fewer scoring opportunities, though Egypt nearly scored the opener in the game's first minutes with shots from Omar Kamal and Hamdy Fathi. Qatar also took aim at the posts early on in the game, but Akram Afif's effort was saved by Egypt's goalkeeper Mohamed Elshenawy. Both teams' best opportunities came in the second half.
Qatar's Almoez Ali had an almost perfect chance to strike home the first goal in the 47th minute of the game. He was positioned directly in front of the goal, in the six-yard box and with defenders on only one side, but his shot went stubbornly over the crossbar. Egypt's Hamdy Fathy took aim in the 63rd, but his powerful header was stopped by an outstanding save from Qatar's keeper Meshaal Barsham. Barsham made another great save in the 86th as one of Egypt's star players, Mohamed Sherif, made a near unchallenged run toward the centre of the sticks and punted a powerful strike towards the back of the net. However, neither team managed to break the deadlock before the end of the first ninety minutes.
During extra time, Barsham was again the match's hero as Egypt stepped up the pressure on the home team's goal. The Pharaohs best chance of scoring came in the 100th minute of the game. Marwan Hamdy hammered the ball across the field in an attempt outside the penalty area. Barsham confidently stopped the strike, but the ball rebounded straight to Egyptian sub-Mostafa Fathi, who booted it back towards the net. Barsham recovered quickly and pounced on the ball before it could do any damage.
After a goalless thirty minutes of extra time, the match went down to penalties. Qatar's captain was up first and uncharacteristically missed the shot. Egypt's Mohamed Afsha scored the first penalty, and with the pressure now on, Qatar's Khoukhi Boualem stepped up to add his team to the scoreboard. Egyptian captain Amr El Solia also hit the back of the net, followed by a successful strike from the Maroons' Abdelkarim. However, Barsham stopped the next shot from Ahmed Hegazy, putting the teams on a level pegging. Both Qatar's Ahmed Alaaeldin and Akran Afif and Egypt's Ahmed Fatouh and Akram Tawfik converted, leaving just shots from Karim Boudiaf and Mohamed Sherif to decide the match. Boudiaf converted, and Sherif, the top scorer in the Egyptian league, stepped up to take the last kick of the game. Sherif delivered a powerful shot, but Barsham denied the conversion, and an exultant Qatar took the match and the third-place title.
In front of a 60,000 plus crowd, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and a host of other dignitaries, Algeria and Tunisia fought a tough battle to be crowned Arab champions.
The first half of the game saw fluid attacking football from both sides, with relatively equal possession and multiple shots on goal at both ends of the pitch, though Algeria had more on-target attempts. Tunisia's closest chance came in the 14th minute when Bilel Ifa's header inside the six-yard box hit the crossbar. Algeria's best opportunities to open the scoring were from a 19th minute shot from Niam Sliti tipped over the top of the woodwork by Tunisian keeper Mouez Hassen. Followed by a beautiful pass from Baghdad Bounedjah to a goal side Tayeb Meziani who tapped the ball just wide, and a deflected shot from Bounedjah in the 33rd that also went slightly wide. The end of the first half saw tempers fray a little as the pressure began to rise, the referee showing the yellow card four times in the final few minutes.
The second half saw a myriad of fouls and yellow cards as the two North African teams battled for control. Again Algeria made most goal attempts, but Tunisia edged their rivals on possession. Tunisia's Seifeddine Jaziri had the best chance in the dying minute of the half. Opening up the Algerian defence, he burst through on goal but, being forced wide as the Algerians reacted, he fired into the side netting. Algeria's Mohamed Belaili made a last-ditch attempt in stoppage time, but the keeper saved his efforts. Neither side managed to break the deadlock, and the game rumbled on into thirty minutes of extra time.
Despite the mental and physical exhaustion, both sides kept up the pace in the final half an hour of play. And, despite an even duel across the game, Algeria pipped Tunisia to the post to take the win. A 99th-minute strike from substitute Amir Sayoud finally opened the scoring and an astounding goal from Yacine Brahimi in the last sixty seconds of stoppage time ended the battle 2-0. The Tunisian keeper left his post to bolster the team on the final corner kick of the match only to see the ball sail over the majority of players heads back towards the Algerian goal. Brahimi seized the opportunity and sprinted down the empty field to put away the final winning goal of the match. As the final whistle blew, Algeria became the new Arab champions of the world.
Awards and Accolades
Following the final victory, a multitude of awards were handed out to teams and players of the 2021 Arab Cup. Tunisia's Seifeddine Jaziri took the Golden Boot as the top scorer of the competition, with Algeria's Yacine Brahimi taking the Silver Boot and Jordan's Yazan Al-Naimat winning the Bronze. The Golden Glove for best goalkeeper went to Algeria's Rais M'bolhi. The Golden Ball was awarded to Yacine Brahimi, Algeria's Youcef Balaili took the Silver Ball, and Qatar's Akram Afif took the Bronze. Morocco won the Fair Play Award.
After the individual and team awards were handed out, the Qatar national team took to the podium to accept their third-place medals from Gianni Infantino. Tunisia, the Arab Cup's first winners in 1963, likewise received medals for second-place. Algeria then took centre stage to lift the Cup, presented by the Emir, accompanied by the crowd's roar and an array of pyrotechnics, for the first time in their history.
Preparations for the 2022 World Cup
The nine action-packed days of the Arab Cup knockouts not only displayed the high standard of Arab football, some fantastic goals and individual play, it was also another successful test run for the hosts of the upcoming 2022 World Cup.
The tournament, which saw the single highest attendance ever for a sporting event in Qatar, acted as a dress rehearsal for the 2022 competition. It allowed the nation to test its readiness for the event in terms of operations, logistics and security. The success of the venture, reflected in its smooth running, the unity of the crowds and the sportsmanship on the field, is a testament to the outcomes of the World Cup next year.
The Arab Cup was also another feather in the cap of the national team. The growing competitiveness of the current squad, who have played successfully at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Copa America, the European World Cup Qualifiers and the Asian 2023 qualifiers in the last two years, was on display again during the tournament. Their highlights will include beating the UAE 5-1 in front of a 64,000 strong home crowd and taking third place over a formidable Egypt. And, despite the disappointment of losing out to Algeria at the semis, the team will have many take-aways as they make their final preparations for the 2022 competition.
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