Star men step up as Qatar, Tunisia storm through
Jaziri and Msakni make the difference for Tunisia
Ali and Afif dazzle as Qatar run riot in phenomenal first half
Semi-final opponents to be decided tomorrow
Tunisia and Qatar became the first teams through to the semi-finals after a remarkable day of action at the inaugural FIFA Arab Cup™.
Although the victors prevailed in very different ways, both profited from the big occasion bringing out the best in their big players. For Tunisia, that was Seifeddine Jaziri and Yousef Msakni - their in-form striker and talismanic captain – coming to the fore to provide the cutting edge in a tight 2-1 win over Oman.
The hosts, for their part, blew UAE away in a stunning first half in which Almoez Ali scored twice and earned a penalty, with Akram Afif adding his third and fourth assists of a sparkling tournament. Felix Sanchez’s team now face a mouth-watering last-four meeting with either Morocco or Algeria, while tomorrow’s second quarter-final – between Egypt and Jordan – will determine who progresses to face the on-song Eagles of Carthage.
Hope, then heartbreak Oman were largely on the back foot against Tunisia, and managed just six efforts on goal to their opponents’ 16. But of all the efforts from both sides, the underdogs produced the best of the bunch: a 30-yard rocket from Arshad Al Alawi that hauled his team level in truly stunning fashion. The celebrations that followed this certain goal of the tournament contender were to be shortlived, however. Just three more minutes had elapsed, in fact, before Tunisia’s lead was restored through Yousef Msakni’s close-range header, breaking hearts that had been sent soaring by Al Alawi’s moment of magic.
Fans respond to Kebaier’s call Tunisia didn’t merely dominate on the field; they were also on top in the stands, where their fans made up the bulk of the 21,329 Education City crowd. As the final minutes ticked down, with tension rising and Oman pushing for an equaliser, Mondher Kebaier decided to make full use of this numerical advantage. Having turned to all four sides of the ground, waving his arms frantically in a plea for backing, the Tunisia coach would have thrilled at the response that followed. The noise levels immediately lifted but there was visual inspiration for his tiring players, too, as their supporters spent the entirety of stoppage time waving their phones, flashlights on, in an attractive, eye-catching show of support.
Catalogue of errors sets the tone UAE don’t normally concede many goals and Akram Afif isn’t in the habit of mis-controlling the ball. This made the first half at Al Bayt, typified by the error-strewn nature of Qatar’s sixth-minute opener, all the more surprising. Mohanad Salem kicked off the catalogue of errors by tripping over the ball, allowing Almoez Ali to steal in and set up Afif seven yards from goal. And then, when Qatar’s nimble-footed No11 looked to have blown the opportunity with an uncharacteristically loose touch after beating the keeper, there was one final, costly mistake as Mohamad Alattas booted his attempted clearance against team-mate Ali Salmin. The ball duly ricocheted back into the Emirati net, setting the tone for a horrendous first-half for Bert van Marwijk’s usually defendable defence. Qatar, of course, simply went from strength to strength, with each goal that followed seemingly more slick and impressive than the last.
Possession without penetration UAE ended the group stage having enjoyed more possession than any other team, but with fewer goals (3) – by some distance – than any of their fellow quarter-finalists. That familiar theme played out again tonight, with the half-time statistics a powerful – and for the Emiratis, painful - reminder of how meaningless monopolising the ball can be. UAE ended that opening 45 with a 73 per cent share in possession, yet hadn’t managed a single shot on target. Their efficient, clinical opponents, needless to say, had an altogether different story to tell, having used their more modest share of the ball to register six efforts on target – five of which flew into Ali Khaseif’s net.
4 - Seifeddine Jaziri cemented his position at the summit of the FIFA Arab Cup scoring chart as his hot streak in Qatar continued. Today’s effort against Oman not only allowed the 28-year-old to add a fourth goal to his tournament tally, but a fourth part of his body with which he has found the net. Having scored with his right foot, left foot and managed a clever backheel during the group stage, he broke the deadlock at Education City with a soaring header to further boost his burgeoning reputation.
“We prepared our game to win, not to have most possession. UAE are a team who like to dominate the ball, but how many chances did they have against us? And I think we created at least five! We played an outstanding first half and all the supporters really enjoyed it. When you score five goals in one half, you have to be very, very proud.” Felix Sanchez, Qatar coach