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Qatar vs Senegal: Will the hosts be the first to leave the party?

Qatar vs Senegal:-Twelve years and $220 billion in the making, Qatar’s World Cup could end in the first week itself.

The small nation-state has incurred an exorbitant cost, as reported by Forbes,to host the first World Cup in the Arab world. But they could be on their way out – becoming just the second hosts, after South Africa, to be eliminated in the group stage – if they fail to get a result against Senegal on Friday.

After a build-up – including behind closed-doors friendlies that were not allowed to be recorded – shrouded in secrecy and intrigue, Felix Sanchez’s side were an unpredictable force coming into the tournament. Their players, however, failed to show up for the occasion in their underwhelming performance in the tournament opener against Ecuador.

They failed to register a single shot on target, made a number of defensive errors, and were down 2-0 within the first half hour, following which Ecuador went into cruise control mode to round out the win. A significantly better performance will be needed for the hosts on Friday.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group A - Senegal v Netherlands - Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 21, 2022 Senegal's Edouard Mendy applauds fans after the match REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach (REUTERS)

Sanchez’s side has an unmistakable influence from Spanish football – a number of their players come from Al Sadd, a club that was captained and later managed by Xavi – and despite showing glimpses of those patterns of play, they were not at a competitive level.

For their players, the occasion was a difficult one to deal with. Given the various criticisms regarding the host country, they were under the scanner at a level they are hardly used to, but Qatar’s ability on and off the ball was far off the pace. They were not exactly at World Cup level – the only hosts to have never played at a World Cup finals before – but a better level was expected of the Asian champions

And if they are to trump the African champions, they can take some inspiration from their fellow Asians. Saudi Arabia and Japan registered massive upsets over Argentina and Germany respectively, and their triumphs were built around a high and direct press, a resolute defensive performance, and cutting edge going forward.

Against Senegal, Qatar are going up against a direct and vertical team. They also like to come higher up the pitch to pinch the ball and cause transitions, but if that initial press is broken, their structure can be attacked. And that is where this Qatar side, capable of playing attractive football with one-touch passing, possession, and positional fluidity, can find joy.

Senegal have shown that by playing through their midfield and full- backs, as the Netherlands did on a number of occasions in their 2-0 win over them on Monday, chances can be created. Qatar will need the patterns of play that made their playing style particularly eye-catching during their Asia Cup-winning triumph in 2019, and more importantly, get their forwards Akram Afif and Almoez Ali into play.

The duo should not be forced to go wide or drop deep to get involved, better service is required to get the best out of them.

Qualifying scenarios

Simply put, this game is a must win for both teams.

If Qatar lose, they will be automatically eliminated from the tournament, as both Ecuador and Senegal will have at least three points and a match to play against each other.

A loss for Senegal is not the end of their chances, but they will need Netherlands vs Ecuador to not be a draw, Qatar to lose to Netherlands in the final game, and then they themselves will need to defeat Ecuador by a massive margin to have a chance. The chances of both scenarios playing out are very slim.

Knockout would be a disaster for a team touted as dark horses, and Africa’s best hopes, at this tournament. Even if they are without star man Sadio Mane.

Other fixtures of the day:

Wales vs Iran (Group B), 3.30 pm, Al-Rayyan Stadium

Iran may become the first team to be out of the World Cup if they fail to get a result against Wales in the early game. The off-field distractions got to them in their first game, but it is do or die now.

Netherlands vs Ecuador (Group A), 9.30 pm, Khalifa International Stadium

Louis Van Gaal’s side, despite being in control, needed two late goals and were not very convincing against Senegal. Ecuador are a good team and could threaten after their big opening day win.

England vs USA (Group B), 12.30 am (Saturday), Al Bayt Stadium

The big-hitting England smashed six past a faltering Iran, proving previous form is not a determining factor in Qatar. A much sterner test, against an energetic USMNT that is looking fresh and bright, is up next.

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