WATCH: Qatar ready for historical CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-finals clash with El Salvador
Qatar will hope to extend their unbeaten run to 11 games, and make it a second win within a month against El Salvador when the two teams meet in the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup tomorrow morning (2:30 AM) at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
The first and only time the two met, a warm-up match ahead of the tournament on July 4, it was Qatar that ran away with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a 69th-minute goal from Almoez Ali despite playing most of the match with 10 men after Abdelaziz Hatim bagged a red card in the 20th minute.
En route the quarters, the 2022 World Cup hosts, who are featuring in the North American tournament as a guest, won their group thanks to a 2-0 win over Honduras, while El Salvador finished second in Group A after losing 1-0 to Mexico in their final match of the opening round.
In their first appearance at this competition, The Maroon has made quite the impression, winning their group with two victories and a draw, scoring nine goals in the process, the most of any side in round-robin play.
The reigning Asian Cup champions made a massive statement to the rest of the teams remaining at this competition that they are a solid contender to win this tournament, and that beating them will take some doing.
Qatar relies heavily on its forwards as a catalyst for its overall style of play and both Akram Afif and Almoez Ali have delivered. The striker duo is tied for third in the Gold Cup scoring two goals apiece. Afif is also tied for second in assists at two along with teammate Ro-Ro.
After a wild opening fixture in which they squandered three leads to draw Panama 3-3, Felix Sanchez saw his team buckle down defensively in their last two group games, maintaining back-to-back clean sheets and holding Honduras to zero shots on target.
When they need a result, they always seem to come up big, having not lost a game since November 2020 when they were beaten in a friendly by South Korea 2-1.
"We are very satisfied...It's been a great experience so far," Sanchez said. "It's made us even more proud to qualify for the quarterfinals because it has been a hard journey for us with three very difficult games," said Sanchez in his pre-match press conference.
"Each [opposing] team had its own style of play...Depending on the result, sometimes we were dominating more or they were dominating more and we need to adapt [to get an advantage] sometimes. I think our team showed personality on the field," he added.
This team has the experience of knowing what it takes to maintain their focus and composure in a knockout match, having captured the Asian Cup two years ago in a tournament where they did not concede a goal until the final against Japan, which they won 3-1.
Since being awarded the World Cup, the Qatar Football Association has been working feverishly to develop this team into a strong squad that nations around the world will fear, and they definitely have the attention of teams in CONCACAF with their performances through three games.
They are unbeaten in their last five fixtures versus teams in this region, and they have only trailed in three of their previous 12 matches, losing only once in that stretch.
Although Qatar has been impressive in the Gold Cup so far, Sanchez is fully expecting a difficult test against El Salvador tomorrow.
"They like to play [assertively] and in all three games, they've tried to show this type of football," Sanchez said. "They like to have a lot of players attacking so we're going to have to be ready."
El Salvador has struggled at this competition in previous campaigns, failing to make it out of the group stage in two of their last three appearances before this one.
Since taking over as manager of the senior side earlier this year, Hugo Perez has turned around their fortunes dramatically, winning his first four matches in charge by a combined score of 16-0 as La Selecta qualified for the Hexagonal phase of World Cup qualifying for the first time since the 2010 campaign.
In the group stage, this team took care of business, dominating Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago, winning both matches 2-0 and putting themselves in a favorable position where they did not have to worry about getting a result against Mexico.
El Salvador had their share of goalscoring opportunities against El Tri, but they were also sloppy in possession, giving the ball away numerous times, and they were fortunate that the Mexicans only punished them one time over the 90 minutes.
If they want to progress beyond the last eight of this tournament, they will need to eliminate those mistakes against a Qatari side who are averaging three goals a game in this competition so far.
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