Upset Against Serbia But Maroons Ready For Portugal Clash
At Hungary's Nagyerdei Stadium in the city of Debrecen, Qatar's Al Annabi Boys suffered a crushing blow against Serbia in their European 2022 World Cup qualifiers campaign. The Serbian team took an early lead, followed by three additional goals across the match to beat Qatar 4-0. While Qatar's qualifier games are only classed as international friendlies and do not count towards the overall results of the European qualifiers, the loss will be disappointing for the Qatari squad. The Maroons, back in Europe for the second leg of this tournament, were returning to the continent after a successful string of international games. However, the upcoming FIFA 2022 World Cup hosts will have to pick themselves up and dust down, ready for their next encounter. On September 4th Qatar will take on football giants Portugal.
Qatar in Europe
Qatar was invited to join the European 2022 qualifiers as guests by UEFA, the continent's football confederation. The idea, to give the Qatari squad exposure and experience up against some of the world's best in advance of the 2022 tournament. As hosts of the next World Cup, Qatar automatically qualified for the event but, as a relatively new footballing nation, has been looking to hone its skills against different opponents with different styles of play.
The Qataris joined the tournament in Group A up against Portugal, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. The team will only play in the first round of the competition, which sees fifty-five European teams drawn into ten groups (A - J) - five groups comprising five teams each and five groups comprising six. The initial round, held over the international windows from March to November 2021, will see each team play home and away matches against every other group member. All ten group winners will directly qualify for the World Cup, while the runners up from each group will go into Round Two - the play-offs - to decide which teams will take the final three slots at the 2022 tournament.
The Maroons have already played their first window of the tournament back in March 2021. The outing was a success and saw the Al Annabi Boys defeat Luxembourg and Azerbaijan and draw with the Republic of Ireland. Coming into the September window against Serbia, Portugal and Luxembourg, the Qatari squad was high. The team qualified, top of their group, at the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers, smashed their way through the CONCACAF 2021 Gold Cup tournament to the semi-finals (only to be beaten 1-0 by 10th ranked USA) and having won their latest international friendlies. However, facing off against Serbia, another win on this occasion just wasn't meant to be…
On the day, the Serbians were given a fortuitous early lead when 2 minutes into the first half, the ball hit the back of the Qatari net off of one of its own players, Boualem Khoukhi. Serbian Filip Đuričić came from the right crossing into the box; Khoukhi's attempt to divert the ball only deflected it past Saad Al Sheeb, Qatar's goalkeeper, to give the Serbs the opening goal.
Qatar immediately put the pressure on taking possession and driving the ball forward but struggled to break the Serbian defence. And, 18 minutes in, Luka Jovic punted another ball to the back of the Qatari net. Qatar fought back again, with shots taken by two of the teams' top scorers, Boualem, no doubt looking to atone for his earlier mistake, and Al Moez Ali. Unfortunately, their shots were stopped by Serbian keeper Predrag Rajkovic.
The Serbs were also looking to add to their tally in the final minutes of the first half. On the attack, Đuričić took a shot too wide to make an impact and Jovic made a mid-range attempt easily saved by Al Sheeb.
After half-time, both teams were back and on the offensive. Qatar's Pedro Miguel took an early shot at goal, but the attempt was thwarted. Đuričić, however, took the score to 3-0 with a left-foot cross to the back of the opposition's net.
Though Almoez and Mohammed Wadd took aim at the posts for Qatar, a dominant Serbian team took the ball to the Qatari goal more often, putting Al Sheeb to the test. Al Sheeb did a sterling job of frustrating many attempts - punts, scissor kicks and one-on-ones. Đuričić, Dušan Vlahovic and Andrija Zivkovic all failed to get their attempts to get the ball across the line. However, in the 85th minute, Nikola Milenkovic managed to head the ball home past the keeper's defences.
The Qataris don't have much time to stop and lick their wounds after the Serbia match. They are straight into their contest against Portugal on the 4th. The game against the Portuguese will be a difficult one. The Seleção are one of the best teams in the world. The Qatari squad will have their work cut out against the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Bernado Silva and Bruno Fernandes.
However, the start of the Portuguese squads' campaign at the qualifiers has been nothing to write home about. Against Azerbaijan, the Portuguese only managed a 1-0 win after an own goal from the Azerbaijanis. Against Serbia, Portugal failed to contain their opponents enough to stop them from equalising. Facing Luxembourg, the Portuguese only seemed to come to life after The Red Lions scored a magnificent diving header in the first half. The shocked Portuguese came round to score three times and take the eventual win, but the performance was somewhat ropey. And, against Ireland, two late goals from Ronaldo only just managed to save the day and steal Ireland's 1-0 lead. Coupled with a disastrous EURO 2020s performance, the previously 5th ranked team has slipped to 8th in the world. A small drop, but it will surely be a confidence boost for the Qataris. And, after their recent defeat, the Qatari squad will be determined to make their mark and hold their own against A Seleção.
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