Qatar got that moment with a goal to make all the money invested and lives lost seem not at all worth it. But Senegal put them in their place.
Goodbye then, Qatar. The hosts topped up the punch bowl, opened a fresh bag of snacks and put on a new playlist before sneaking out the back. Almost certainly the earliest guest to be booted out of their own house party, they at least told everybody to make themselves at home first.
Well, not everybody. Not at all. Little bit awkward that. Good sodding riddance.
They got their long-awaited moment. Any pretence that Qatar wanted and were awarded the World Cup on any sporting or developmental basis were served in the 78th minute with a phenomenally crafted goal. After all the billions spent, words spoken and lives lost, Mohammed Muntari planted a fine header past Edouard Mendy to justify absolutely nothing to anyone but Gianni Infantino, his mates and the home nation themselves.
Pleasingly enough, it came from that most universally celebrated football action: a mammoth switch from Abdelkarim Hassan, controlled beautifully by Ismaeel Mohammad and crossed exquisitely for Muntari to finish. It was genuinely excellent, albeit entirely incongruous with the approach of La Masia-educated head coach Felix Sanchez.
Far more amusingly, Senegal thoroughly stamped out any burgeoning hopes of an unlikely comeback. Bamba Dieng’s well-taken strike capped a professional performance from worthy winners.
Qatar were much-improved from their opening fixture, low a bar though that is. They were resolute until Boualem Khoukhi’s critical mistake on the stroke of half-time, the centre-half botching a clearance and allowing Boulaye Dia to capitalise.
Famara Diedhiou’s stunning front-post header shortly after the restart confirmed Senegal’s superiority and contributed to their slight dip in concentration and cohesion, without which Qatar would never have scored.
But to their credit they recovered from another uninspiring first half. Senegal created all the early opportunities, missed in various ways by Ismaila Sarr, Idrissa Gueye and Krepin Diatta. Qatar keeper Meshaal Barsham flapped at one cross and, apparently spurred on by Wayne Hennessey, rushed out of his goal in a failed effort to clear a long ball, but was otherwise not tested to enough of a degree.
Champions League regular Antonio Mateu Lahoz outlined himself as the single bravest referee at the tournament, rejecting calls for a penalty after Sarr clumsily bundled over Akram Afif in the area. It seemed like far more of a foul than that which Cristiano Ronaldo was awarded only a couple of games prior but there was not even an on-pitch VAR check to satiate the fans.
Afif was comfortably Qatar’s best and brightest player. Fitting, perhaps, considering just how particularly f**king backwards FIFA have proven themselves to be of late.
It is to Qatar’s vague credit that they sort of tried to play their own game. Sanchez was appointed manager in 2017 but the Spaniard has been in the national team’s system at various youth levels since 2013, having been plucked for the Aspire Academy in Doha in 2006. Cut him and he bleeds Qatar. If there is such a thing as Qatar DNA he embodies it. And cute though the sights of Afif dropping deep for a passing option at a counter-attack or Khoukhi building up the play from short goal kicks are, this is manufactured inadequacy with about a decade and a half of meticulous preparation and investment sunk into it.
Only when they shifted to sticking it in the mixer did Qatar find any fortune. And even then, it required Senegal to take their foot off the acceleration, underlined by an instant response to their lead being halved.
Aliou Cisse’s side retain every hope of making the knockouts for only the second time in their history, with a straight shootout against Ecuador for the final spot in the group seeming likely.
As for Qatar, none of the evidence so far suggests they would have graced this stage on actual merit, nor in the near future without the upcoming expansion to 48 teams. Even that is absolutely no guarantee of their presence. This party will go on without them and be better for it – unless Netherlands deign to lose to Ecuador – but that obvious unpleasantness will inevitably linger.
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