A Victorious Qatar Advances to the 2021 Gold Cup Semi-Finals
Qatar's national football team are heading to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF 2021 Gold Cup after an action-packed match on July 25th, saw the Asian champions pip El Salvador to the post, 3-2. With Sunday's win, Qatar has succeeded in getting to the last four in the race to be crowned North, Central America and the Caribbean's football champions.
The quarter-final match between the Al Annabi Boys and Central America's La Selecta was always going to be spirited. Qatar beat the Salvadorians in an international friendly just under three weeks previously and off the back of a run of wins at the Asian 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup qualifiers. El Salvador, also top of their recent 2022 World Cup qualifying group, would have had something to prove. On the day, both teams put on an energetic and determined performance. However, despite a valiant comeback by El Salvador from 3-0 down, Qatar held the Central Americans off.
Taking the lead early two minutes into the game, Qatar's Almoez Ali thumped home a precision goal, passing the ball between the Salvadorian goalkeeper Gonzalez and defender Zavaleta to hit the back of the net. The ball, given away by El Salvador, was run down the pitch by Qatar's Akram Afif. With three Salvadorian defenders closing in, Afif switched the ball back to Abdulaziz Hatem. Hatem's touch on the ball gave Afif time to reposition himself for a cross to Ali, who fired the opening shot.
Only five minutes later, Qatar's Pedro Miguel (also known as Ro-Ro) passed back to Hatem outside the box. Hatem played a clever dummy sending the closest Salvadorian defenders to the left while he checked right and booted a superb strike into the top left of the goal.
Between the second goal for Qatar and the half-time mark, both teams put pressure on the other's goalkeeper. Ro-Ro took shots at goal from inside and outside the box, but one went wide, and the other hit the post. Qatari midfielder Karim Boudaif hammered a corner from Afif at the net, only to be denied by Gonzalez. Almoez Ali tried to head a cross from Hatem into the goal, but the ball drifted a gnat's whisker past the sticks. El Salvador player Joaquin Rivas intercepted a Qatari back pass to take a long shot at goal, but the ball went wide. Teammate Jairo Henriquez also tried to put one in for his team with a great long shot, but Qatari goalkeeper Mashaal Barsham tapped the ball away.
Heading back onto the pitch after half-time, Qatar got their third - and, as it turned out - winning goal within ten minutes of the starting whistle. A Salvadorian handball inside the box gave Qataris their chance. Ali took the shot, and despite Gonzalez's best efforts, it was unstoppable. Qatar took a 3-0 lead.
However, El Salvador came back fighting. One minute after Ali's goal, Rivas took a long shot, saved by Barsham. Five minutes later, Marvin Monterrosa's corner was headed towards the Qatari goal but fell just too wide. The pressure from the Salvadorians paid off; Rivas' shot in the 63rd minute went between Barsham's legs and to the back of the net - El Salvador finally got one in the bag. Then, in the 66th minute and with a touch of magic, Salvadorian Bryan Tamacas took a sliding ball through Khoukhi, got to his feet, rolled the ball back to Rivas, who punted in his second goal of the match.
Though the score remained 3-2 to Qatar until full-time, the pressure on Qatar didn't let up. Amando Moreno took aim in the 68th minute but went too wide. Rivas took yet another shot at goal in the 92nd minute, but Barsham booted the ball away. And, in the 93rd minute, Rivas' pass to Juan Carlos Portillo Leal ended up rebounding off of Barsham's bicep. However, the equaliser never came, and Qatar was triumphant.
The Gold Cup tournament pits sixteen teams - the best across the North Americas - against one another every two years. Sixteen teams, drawn into four groups of four, play a single round-robin knockout tournament to decide which eight teams will head to the quarter-finals. The eight teams then play a straightforward knockout competition to determine the four squads to advance to the semis. And, the semis produce the best two teams for the final. Occasionally, a guest team is invited to join the contest. For the 2021 tournament, fifteen of CONCACAF's best teams and guest team Qatar made up the contenders for the competition. In the Group Stage, Qatar drew against Panama and won matches against Grenada and Honduras to reach the quarter-finals. The victory over El Salvador at the quarter-finals sealed their place in the semis alongside Mexico, the United States of America and Canada. The final four will play the penultimate matches at the end of July.
Qatar will be heading to Paradise, Nevada, for their semi-final match, and they will be up against the USA. Mexico will take on Canada. Qatar's game will be played out in the Allegiant Stadium, opened in 2020 with a capacity of 61,000 and home of the Las Vegas Raiders. The match will be a true test of the Al Annabi Boys mettle - an away match with the home team taking the advantage, up against one of CONCACAF's second-best squads and the world's 20th ranked team. Qatar has the opportunity to send their football credibility sky high if the upcoming match goes their way. However, in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the Arab team will be winners whatever the outcome. The squad's experience gained at the Gold Cup tournament, and the confidence, style and successful way the team played together is priceless.
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