Qatar become the first team through to the FIFA Arab Cup quarter-finals
UAE stay perfect too but a shock Syria win denies them early passage
Only the hosts are assured of their fate ahead of the groups’ conclusions
Whatever you do at the FIFA Arab Cup™, don’t leave early to beat the traffic. Stoppage-time drama has punctuated this tournament at frequent intervals and made its mark again today, with late goals leaving Qatar and UAE with the tournament’s only unblemished records. For the hosts, two wins from two have taken them through to the quarter-finals – and secured top spot in Group A - with a game to spare. UAE, on the other hand, are not yet assured of their spot after Syria produced the surprise result of the tournament so far by beating Tunisia at Al Bayt Stadium. That result leaves everything to play for across the two sections, with none of the teams yet consigned to elimination and three last-eight spots up for grabs on Monday.
Oman curse the clock Had their games ended without any additional time, or even as the clock struck 96 minutes, Oman would be sitting pretty on four points. The fact they have just one to show for their efforts is down to the concession of two truly heart-breaking goals, with today’s 97th-minute winner for Qatar adding to the agony of Iraq’s 98th-minute equaliser on matchday one. But the team’s veteran Croatian coach, Branko Ivankovic, rejected suggestions that blame should be apportioned for this failure to see games out. “I cannot complain about my players,” he said. “They were fully concentrated. Just as against Iraq, they didn’t deserve what happened to them today.”
From acrobatics to agony After showing off his acrobatic abilities in UAE’s opening-match win over Syria with an eye-catching celebration, Ali Saleh went one better today. The talented 21-year-old showed all his skill and agility to twist, control on his chest and send home a brilliant bicycle kick against Mauritania, claiming what would have been a certain goal of the tournament contender. But his celebrations were cut short on this occasion by the tightest of VAR offside decisions, leaving Saleh with his head in his hands. He was rejoicing again at the end, though, as team-mate Khalil Alhammadi snuck in for a late winner that has left Bert van Marwijk’s side within touching distance of a place in the last eight.
Bahrain banking on rotation rewards With a group game to negotiate every three days, coaches at the FIFA Arab Cup have all been weighing up the risks and rewards of squad rotation. Helio Sousa is well known for readily shuffling his pack, and the Bahrain coach did so again today, making six changes to the team that had lost 1-0 to Qatar. And while his critics will suggest that another goalless outing offered scant justification, Sousa can rightly point out that he employed this rotation strategy at his team’s last tournament in Qatar: the 2019 Gulf Cup. Then, as now, Bahrain took just a solitary point from their opening two matches. But as Sousa will tell you, those fresh-legged Bahraini players later went on to lift the trophy.
The perfect present While late goals were the order of the day elsewhere, it was an early strike – scored after just four minutes - that paved the way for Syria’s shock win over Tunisia. Its scorer was a young man with more than one reason to celebrate: birthday boy Oliver Kass Kawo. The Aleppo-born attacker, who plays his club football in Sweden for third-tier side FC Jarfalla, turned 20 today and marked the occasion with a goal that will live long in Syrian hearts. Kass Kawo will now hope to add another chapter to his FIFA Arab Cup fairy tale by claiming an unlikely spot in the quarter-finals when his team face Mauritania on Monday.
6 – A third of the goals at this tournament, six out of 18 in total, have been scored in either first or second-half stoppage time.
“The belief from the players, and their commitment, allowed us to rise to a tough challenge. We kept trying until the last minute and that resulted in a very important goal. To qualify after just two games is not usual in these kind of competitions and we need to be proud of their efforts.” Felix Sanchez, Qatar coach