Qatar starts FIFA Arab Cup campaign on a winning note, beat Bahrain 1-0
Qatar began their quest for a maiden title at the FIFA Arab Cup on a winning note yesterday after edging their Gulf counterpart Bahrain with a lone goal courtesy of Abdulaziz Hatem's inch-perfect header in the 69th minute at the newly-inaugurated Al Bayt Stadium.
After a spectacular opening ceremony of the stadium, one of the host venues of next year's FIFA World Cup, Bahrain began the match as the better side with their high-pressing play. Qatar, however, came on stronger before the end of the scoreless first half.
Hosts of the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar, in Group A alongside Bahrain, Oman, and four-time champions Iraq, had not defeated Bahrain since a friendly in 2004. The team has also recently experienced a slump in form, having not won a game since its quarter-final triumph against El Salvador at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. They have since then gone on an eight-match winless streak with some huge losses against superior European teams.
Bahrain could have got one up against Qatar as early as the seventh minute of the game had Mahdi Alhumaidan not failed to connect a header from a close range.
Qatar's goalkeeper Sayed Mohammed was forced into making two decent stops from close range before the 25th minute, with the hosts seeing plenty of the ball.
The momentum, however, changed shortly before the half-hour mark as the Al Annabi stars seemed to have gotten into their stride as they appeared to be more composed and began to play with increasing confidence.
The best chance of the opening 15 minutes of the second half went Qatar's way. Abdulaziz Hatem delivered his free-kick from a wide position with both pace and precision to the head of Boualem Khouki, who connected brilliantly, only to see the ball bounce just over the crossbar.
Qatar continued to control play as Almoez Ali directed a fine pass from Akram Afif off his head just centimeters wide of the goal at the 64th minute.
Qatar finally broke the deadlock with a superbly guided header from Abdulaziz Hatem. Afif proved integral to the goal with an inviting driven ball into the box, allowing Hatem to guide his effort beyond the Bahraini shot stoppers' grasp.
"We know Bahrain is a very good team. They have been doing well in the last two to three years, a much-organized team with top-quality players. I think we played a good game. The first half was a little difficult because the opening game of any tournament is not easy. But I think we had better chances, and we deserved the three points," the Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said.
"Playing at this stadium, I think, it's an experience for us," said Sanchez. "As I have said before, to play in this tournament is like training for the World Cup. So, I think it's a good experience to have one year before the World Cup," the Spaniard added.
In the other matches, one of the tournament's favorite Iraq played a 1-1 draw with Oman, with Abdulkareem Hasan rescuing a point for the Iraqis almost with the last kick of the game after Salaah Al Yahyaei had given the Omanis a rare hope of a win with his 78th-minute goal at the Al Janoub Stadium.
Elsewhere, Tunisia inflicted a heavy 5-1 defeat on their Mauritanian counterpart in Group B courtesy of braces from Mohamed Ben Arbi and Seifeddine Jaziri, while the UAE defeated Syria 2-1.
Qatar will next face Oman Oman on Friday at the Education City Stadium, while Bahrain will square up against Iraq at the Al Thumama Stadium on the same day.
The FIFA Arab Cup is hosted by Qatar until December 18 with the participation of 16 teams.
Iraq, the most successful team in the history of the competition, has four titles, followed by Saudi Arabia with two. Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia each have won the tournament once.
Qatar, which has only participated twice in the tournament before now (1985 and 1998), are seeking their first Arab Cup title. They finished runners-up at the 1998 tournament, which they also hosted.
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