DOHA, Qatar (AP) – The World Cup is a good opportunity will go from bad to worse for the Qatari team if the players do not conquer their nerves when they face African champions Senegal in their second group match.
The Qataris are already the first hosts to lose the opening game of a World Cup after being overwhelmed by their nation’s biggest sporting event. in a 2-0 Group A defeat against Ecuador on Sunday.
This puts them in danger of also being only the second host after South Africa in 2010 to be eliminated in the group stage.
But what about losing every game? Or the grim prospect of failing to score at their home World Cup?
That would probably garner even more criticism on FIFA’s decision to award the World Cup to the small but very wealthy Gulf emirate which never qualified for the game’s biggest tournament before winning the right to host it 12 years ago.
“Maybe we felt a little overwhelmed by the responsibility. We were also nervous,” said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez. “I hope we will be under less pressure (against Senegal) and we can approach the game more competitively. I think that’s something we can work towards.”
Qatar’s next chance to show it deserves a place on the World Cup field comes against Senegal on Friday, a team still boasting an array of players from the top leagues in England, Spain, Italy and France even without injured forward Sadio Mane.
“We have a lot of room for improvement,” Sanchez said after his players froze in the glare of global scrutiny against Ecuador.
Qatar could be the 2019 Asian champions, but every squad member plays for a local club at home in an indicator perhaps of the gap between them and the standard required at a World Cup.
Qatar’s struggles also stand out after other teams from Arab countries made themselves more at home at the first World Cup in the Middle East. Argentina’s colossal upset defeat by Saudi Arabia was followed by impressive performances from Tunisia and Morocco in the first week of the tournament.
Senegal also slipped to an opening loss at the World Cup but troubled a strong Dutch team before second-half injuries to midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate and defender Abdou Diallo disrupted the West Africans’ rhythm and the Dutch took advantage to score two late goals.
Kouyate is likely to be out of the Qatar game, but Senegalese coach Aliou Cisse said the focus for his team is up front, where he has high expectations for a new forward combination of Ismaila Sarr, Boulaye Dia and Krepin Diatta.
They didn’t quite hit it off in their first game together after Mane was sent off, but if they do against Qatar as Cisse expects it could be another long day at the World Cup for the hosts.
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