DOHA (Reuters) – The World Cup hopes of Qatar were left hanging by a thread after a 3-1 loss to Senegal that leaves them bottom of Group A and facing elimination just five days after they opened the tournament with a 2-0 loss to Ecuador.
If Ecuador fails to beat the Netherlands later on Friday the Qataris will be the first side mathematically eliminated from a finals they have spent a reported $200 billion to host.
Qatar showed some flashes of exciting attacking play, but the reigning Asian champions were undone by sloppy defending that was harshly punished by a Senegalese side that was just that little bit better in every department.
The Senegal fans brought color and noise with rhythmic drumming throughout, while the home supporters turned out in maroon shirts, with many of the men opting for the traditional Middle Eastern thobe, a pristine white ankle-length tunic.
Qatar’s opening-night nerves were nowhere to be seen as they quickly got to grips with Senegal and should have had a penalty when Ismaila Sarr bundled over Akram Afif, but Spanish referee Antonio Mateu waved away their pleas and VAR did not intervene.
With Qatar defending well, it was going to take either a moment of magic or a catastrophic mistake for Senegal to break the deadlock and unfortunately for Qatar defender Boualem Khoukhi it turned out to be the latter.
His attempt to clear a routine low pass into the box by Krepin Diatta went disastrously wrong as he fluffed his clearance, allowing Boulaye Dia to pounce, and he rattled home the opening goal just before the break.
With the Qatari crowd thinned out somewhat at the start of the second half, Famara Diedhou doubled Senegal’s advantage with a brilliant glancing header from an Ismail Jakobs corner in the 48th minute.
The missing home fans were soon back in their seats and rewarded with some superb attacking play as the hosts registered their first effort on target in the tournament, with Ismael Mohamad forcing a superb reflex save from Edouard Mendy.
Muntari reduced the deficit in the 78th with a bullet header from Mohamad’s cross for Qatar’s first ever goal at a World Cup in their debut tournament but Senegal were unruffled as they continued to out-muscle their opponents in midfield.
Six minutes after Muntari’s strike, Bamba Dieng swept home a pass form fellow substitute Iliman Ndiaye for the African side’s third to consign Qatar to the bottom of Group A with no points, while their group rivals all have three.
In truth, with the Dutch still to come, the Qataris have next to no chance of making it out of the group, but coach Felix Sanchez told reporters that he and his team had never expected to set the world on fire, despite being at home .
“Expectations were set to give a good performance and organize a good World Cup, and that is the case,” he told a news conference, praising his players for their efforts.
“We wanted to show what we could do on the pitch – most of our opponents are ahead of us in many ways, but we managed to show what we can do.”
The 46-year-old Spaniard pointed out how being a small country with a small population had hindered the national team, and said that qualifying for the tournament for a second time would prove hugely beneficial.
First, though, they must meet the Netherlands in what will almost certainly be their final game at this event.
“We have to prepare for the Netherlands, and we know it’s going to be an even tougher game against them – a great opponent, with some great players,” Sanchez said.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)