World Cup 2022 European Qualifiers - Qatar’s Debut Match Success
The UEFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers kicked off yesterday, March 24th, at 6 pm (CET). The year-long tournament began with a head-to-head between Turkey and the Netherlands...and a friendly between Qatar and Luxembourg. Joining the competition as a guest, alongside fifty-five European teams (split into 10 groups, A-J, for Round One), the Qatari squad were predicted to have the upper hand against their first opponents. The Maroons lived up to expectations taking an early lead against the Red Lions in the 12th minute, which they sustained until full time, winning the match 1-0.
UEFA’s Guest Team
In December 2020, UEFA invited the Qatar national team to join the European World Cup qualification tournament as preparation for 2022. Qatar, as hosts of the 2022 World Cup, automatically qualified for the event. However, to succeed on this global stage, Qatar, who have never qualified for the tournament before, needed to maximise this golden opportunity. What better way to do that than take to the field against some of the best players and teams in the world. The reigning Asian champions, a heavyweight title they have acquired in recent years, will gain invaluable experience in Europe against a different type of opponent with a distinct style of play.
Qatar joins Group A alongside Portugal, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. The Maroons will play their 'home' matches in Europe to reduce travel times for their opponents, and since they have already qualified, the host team's match results won't officially count.
Prior to yesterday's match, the Qatari squad were expected to end their first match as the victors. The team has been increasing its dominance on the Asian continent lately, taking the 2019 Asian Cup by storm - the team played the whole campaign practically unopposed - and winning against Japan in the final. They currently sit top of their Asian qualifiers group, having whipped Bangladesh 5-0 in December 2020 and winning all but one match to date. So, it looks likely that the squad will qualify for the next Asian Cup in 2023. Luxembourg, on the other hand, is considered one of the weakest teams in the European federation.
It was the first meeting for the Maroons and the Reds, and the teams took to the field at a neutral venue, Nagyerdei Stadion in Hungary.
Qatar made a positive start to the match, and an early attacking run allowed the Maroons to take the lead. A mistake in the Luxembourg defence allowed Al Moez Ali to send a neat cross to Muhammed Muntari, who capably found the back of the net from close range.
Though the 1-0 score remained the same until full-time, both teams had several chances to send the ball home. Luxembourg hit the bar once in the first half and missed out on two corners, as well as numerous opportunities in front of the goal. On the other hand, Qatar's Pedro Miguel took aim twice but found the goal post on both occasions; Al Moez Ali was equally foiled in his attempt to take two solid balls across the goal line; even Muntari's second attempt at goal was denied.
While the Qataris defended well and made some good attacking play, Luxembourg was the better team in the second half in terms of building attacks and possession of the ball. However, they could not penetrate the Qatari defence enough to find the back of the net and equalise the score. Luxembourg's situation wasn't improved when, three minutes before the end of the match, Aldin Skenderovic was sent off for an improper tackle against Miguel.
All in all, the squad from Qatar made a confident start to their tournament.
Up and Coming Games
The Qataris will face up to Azerbaijan on Matchday 2, to be held on March 27th at 6 pm (CET). This second match for the Maroons will take place, once again, at the Nagyerdei Stadion in Hungary, removing the home advantage for either team. Qatar should do well against the Azerbaijanis, who are currently ranked 108th in the FIFA rankings (as of February ‘21) compared to the Qatari squad at 58th. However, it is worth noting that Azerbaijan managed to hold off Portugal (ranked 5th) during their opening match of the tournament yesterday at 8:45 pm (CET). The Portuguese team failed to score and only won the game due to an own goal from Azerbaijan.
On March 30th, Matchday 3, Qatar will face the Republic of Ireland. The Irish team have been in poor form lately, scoring in just one game in the last six Nations League matches and not at all in the UEFA EURO qualifiers to date. However, the Irish squad gave a positive performance during their opening match against Serbia yesterday evening. The team were the better side during the first half of the game, opening the scoring in the 18th minute. Though the Serbs equalised before half time and scored twice in the middle of the second half, the plucky Irish added another goal to their tally, closing the gap in the dying minutes of the match. The Irish squad will definitely test the Qatari team’s mettle on the 30th.
Qatar will meet the final teams in Group A, Portugal and Serbia during the September 2021 window.
In Other News
Twelve qualifying matches were played out on the evening of the 24th, pitting teams from Group A, D, E, G and H against each other for the first time this tournament. The results were a mixed bag. France's own goal allowed the Ukrainian squad to draw 1-1 against the 2018 World Cup champions - a disappointing start for the French, to say the least. It was also a poor start for Croatia. The Croatians took on France at the 2018 World Cup but failed to score last night in their opening match against Slovenia. There was upset for the Netherlands as well. The Dutch were predicted to do well against Turkey but ended the night trailing two goals to Turkey's four. On a more positive note, the world's number one team Belgium came from behind to beat Wales with a decisive 3-1 score, and the Czech Republic thoroughly thrashed Estonia 6 - 2.
- Turkey vs Netherlands, Atatürk Olympic Stadium: 4 - 2
- France vs Ukraine, Stade de France: 1 - 1
- Gibraltar vs Norway, Victoria Stadium: 0 - 3
- Finland vs Bosnia and Herzegovina, Helsinki Olympic Stadium: 2 - 2
- Latvia vs Montenegro, Skonto Stadium: 1 - 2
- Slovenia vs Croatia, Stožice Stadium: 1 - 0
- Belgium vs Wales, Den Dreef Stadion: 3 - 1
- Serbia vs Ireland, Red Star Stadium: 3 - 2
- Portugal vs Azerbaijan, Juventus Stadium: 1 - 0
- Malta vs Russia, Ta' Qali National Stadium: 1 - 3
- Estonia vs the Czech Republic, Arena Lublin: 2 - 6
- Cyprus vs Slovakia, GSP Stadium: 0 - 0
Matchday 1 continues this evening, March 25th, from 6 pm (CET). A further thirteen matches will be contested, pitting teams from Groups B, C, F, I and J against one another for the first time this tournament:
- Israel vs Denmark - 6 pm (CET)
- Bulgaria vs Switzerland - 6 pm (CET)
- Sweden vs Georgia - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Scotland vs Austria - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Liechtenstein vs Armenia - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Hungary vs Poland - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Andorra vs Albania - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Germany vs Iceland - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Romania vs North Macedonia - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Moldova vs the Faroe Islands - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Italy vs Northern Ireland - 8:45 pm (CET)
- Spain vs Greece - 8:45 pm (CET)
- England vs San Marino - 8:45 pm (CET)
Matchday 2 begins on March 27th, and Matchday 3 on March 30th. The March window was extended, by FIFA, from two days to three due to calendar issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Find out who is in the Qatari National Squad for their European contest, read our Qatari Squad List for the UEFA 2022 Qualifiers article.
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