HOW many times have Qatar performed well only to mess it up at the end?
Well, their fans might have lost count. The most painful memory probably was conceding a last-gasp goal to South Korea at this stage of the 2014 World Cup qualification three years ago. That was until the implosion against Iran in Tehran last week.
Having matched Iran in all departments of the game and held them goalless, Qatar had to just see off just four more minutes in injury time to take home one point. A draw against Asia’s top-ranked team would have been a morale booster, but more importantly, given the Gulf nation a valuable point from a tough away fixture.
Instead, Qatar collapsed. Goalkeeper Amine Lecomte is weak in using his legs and is not comfortable with his goal kicks. But the way he hit Mohammed Kassola’s back pass straight at Karim Ansari and ended up conceding a goal was beyond belief. It let the entire team down.
Almost all players of Qatar have played on the Asian stage, either with their clubs or the national team, but keeping their head cool towards death and making the right decisions at crunch moments is something they seemingly are yet to learn.
“It’s football and instances like this happen,” Qatar international Khaled Muftah tried to tone things down when asked about the mental strength of his team-mates.
Qatar’s Uruguayan coach Daniel Carreno, who spoke about making his players mentally ready before every game, however, added that pressure made football beautiful.
“We’re putting pressure on ourselves and I think it’s the right thing to do. Pressure comes along with the game, and it’s the case everywhere, in all competitions. Football will lose its essence without pressure. What matters is we’ve to deal with it properly. Things are quite clear for our players,” said Carreno.
Uzbekistan winger Sardor Rashidov, who plies his trade with El Jaish, said he never felt Qatari players lacked mental toughness.
“Having a played a full season in the Qatar Stars League, I know each and every player of the Qatar national team. They’re all players of quality in every sense,” said Rashidov. DSP
FIVE THINGS LEARNT FROM IRAN VS QATAR MATCH
Iran captain Andranik Teymourian, Ashkan Dejagah and Pejman Montazeri all have had spells at the Qatar Stars League clubs, yet they could not provide their team with the vital breakthrough. In a last-ditch effort coach Carlos Queiroz turned to Reza Ghoochannejad and the 28-year old, who had a brief loan stint at Al Wakrah towards the end of the 2014-15 season, broke the deadlock in the 94th minute and turned out to be their super-sub.
Football does not exist without its share of mistakes in each game, but the horrendous error Qatar goalkeeper Amine Lecomte committed should haunt him for some time. Having held Team Melli goalless until injury time, Qatar had only four more minutes to see off, but Lecomte, after receiving a back pass from Mohammed Kassola, hit the ball straight to Karim Ansari, who squared it to Reza Ghoochannejad for a tap in. While Lecomte is good with his acrobatics and reflexes, he is not considered effective in using his legs.
Qatar may have returned empty-handed from Tehran, but the performance they put up against Asia’s top-ranked team should make Daniel Carreno and his men confident in their upcoming matches. Qatar expectedly played a defensive game, but they created enough chances, with Sebastian Soria and Hassan Al Haidous penetrating into the box in both halves.
FORTRESS IN TEHRAN
Looking back, the crowd factor swung things in Iran’s favour. If their ranking and record at this level gave them a superior status, their vociferous, passionate crowd once again turned the historic Azadi Stadium into a fortress. As Iran upped the ante towards the end, the sea of spectators in red, green and white constantly cheered and pushed their team, adding more pressure on Qatar, who wilted in the end.
GEM OF A GOAL
The moment of the match belonged to Alireza Jahan Bakhsh. With Qatar going all out in search of an equaliser, Bakhsh found the space and time to drill in Iran’s second goal deep into injury time. Andranik Teymourian picked out the AZ Alkmaar winger on the right wing with an inch-perfect long ball. Bakhsh trapped it well, beat Akram Afif and rifled home a low shot into the right bottom corner of the net.