CONCACAF Gold Cup: Qatar advance to semifinals with win over El Salvador

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Qatar excels in an impressive 'World Cup training run' to advance to the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinals.

On July 24 in Glendale (suburban Phoenix) Arizona, guest nation Qatar built a 3-0 lead by the 55th minute before El Salvador staged a furious fightback, only to fall short by a final score line of 3-2. With the win, Qatar advanced to the CONCACAF Gold Cup as semifinalists in their first ever appearance at the event. Qatar, the reigning Asian Football Confederation (AFC) champions from 2019, were invited as a guest as part of their efforts to prepare their national team ahead of hosting the 2022 World Cup next winter.

For Qatar, Almoez Ali (Al-Duhail) scored two goals, with his second the ultimate winning goal from the penalty spot in the 55th minute, and he is the joint leader in goals at the Gold Cup with four. Abdelaziz Hatimad (Al Rayyan) scored the other goal.

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Two goal scorer Almoez Ali on the ball for Qatar against El Salvador in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal on July 24 in Glendale, Arizona. Photo courtesy: Arianna Grainey Photography.

El Salvador's 29-year-old forward Joaquin Rivas, who plays with FC Tulsa in the USL Championship (second division in the U.S.) scored twice in three minutes to pull ES to within one at the 66th minute mark, while the Central Americans had a later goal that was disallowed for offside.

El Salvador's Joaquin Rivas (#14 in white) takes on two Qatari's in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal on July 24 in Glendale, Arizona. Photo courtesy: Arianna Grainey Photography.

Qatar's Spanish head coach Felix Sanchez said after the match, "For 60 minutes, we controlled the match. The last half-hour, they were attacking all the time." Sanchez has been coaching in Qatar since 2006 and has been in charge of the senior national team since mid-2017. Besides the 2019 AFC success, he also won the Asian title at the U-19 level with Qatar in 2014.

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Qatar defender Khoukhi Boualam (#16) dribbles away from El Salvador's attackers in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal on July 24 in Glendale, Arizona. Photo courtesy: Arianna Grainey Photography.

Qatar is hoping to avoid joining South Africa in 2010 as the only WWC host to never advance from the first round group stage to the knockout rounds. They have led all teams so far in scoring at this Gold Cup and, on the basis of their play at this tournament, will be competitive next year in the World Cup. They have outstanding speed—particularly in attack and on counterattacking opportunities—with their forwards very consciously and consistently putting their shots on frame. One risky tactic is their high propensity to use slide tackles in the open field to intercept the ball. Largely they were successful with this but when they miss time their attempt, it leaves their player completely out of the action.

Qatar also was a guest side at the 2019 Copa America, starting with a 2-2 deadlock with Paraguay followed by losses to Colombia (0-1) and Argentina (0-2) to finish bottom of their first round group. They next will participate in UEFA's World Cup Qualifying Stage—even though they qualify directly as hosts—and will play friendlies with the five teams in Group A—Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland and Serbia—with one team not playing a qualifier on any match day. These friendlies will not count in the UEFA Group standings and will all be played in Europe, but will provide some strong competition as the 2022 World Cup looms.

For Qatar's Gold Cup side which was entirely based at home, Al Sadd SC had 12 players represented, followed by Al-Duhail SC with seven, Al Gharafa with three and Al Rayyan with one member. Al Sadd was the designated host club participating in the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar, finishing sixth out of seven sides. When the club won the AFC Champions League in 2011, they finished third in the 2011 FIFA World Club Cup that same season.

In other quarterfinal action in Glendale on July 24, Mexico easily dispatched Honduras 3-0 in front of a sellout crowd of 64,211 as part of the doubleheader with the Qatar-El Salvador match.

On July 25, Canada advanced to the semifinals with a 2-0 win over Costa Rica at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (suburban Dallas-Fort Worth) Texas. Stephen Eustaquio (Pacos Ferreira of Portugal after an injury-filled stint with Cruz Azul of Mexico) scored his fourth goal of the tournament to tie for the Golden Boot lead with Qatar's Ali. Junior Hoilett (who played with Cardiff City in Wales from 2016 through this season but did not sign a new contract) gave the Maple Leafs the first goal and ultimate winner in the 18th minute, with his third goal of the Gold Cup. In the night cap, the U.S. defeated Jamaica 1-0 with an 83rd minute goal from Matthew Hoppe (Schalke of the German Second Division) the only score. On Thursday, July 29, Qatar will play host nation United States at the new Q2 stadium in Austin, Texas while Mexico faces Canada in NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get yours copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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