Qatar’s World Cup ends in disaster as the hosts are knocked out after just six days

Qatar 1-3 Senegal (Muntari 78′ | Dia 41′, Diedhiou 48′, Dieng 84′)

The Qatari PR offensive was never dependent on the national team’s success at the first ever World Cup in the Middle East, but it has ended in disaster for Felix Sanchez’s side as they became the first team to be knocked out.

The hosts lost both of their first two games, beaten 2-0 by Ecuador in the opener on Sunday courtesy of Enner Valencia’s brace as they failed to engineer a single shot on target. They were unable to compete physically and that humbling could have been even greater, with another Valencia strike having been dubiously ruled out for offside after just four minutes.

Qatar can hold onto one piece of history, scoring their first World Cup goal in the 3-1 defeat to Senegal on Friday. However, Netherlands’ 1-1 draw with Ecuador in the other Group A match of the day meant Qatar were eliminated just six days after the tournament kicked off.

They are just the second country to host a World Cup and not make the knockout stages, following South Africa’s group stage exit in 2010.

Before Qatar 2022 had commenced, there was some optimism in the Gulf state that they could surprise their detractors. They are the reigning Asia Cup champions and efforts have been made to galvanise the domestic Qatar Stars League; that has not made the difference on the biggest stage of all.

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Even with the hosts no longer taking part, Qatar will remain under scrutiny for the remainder of the tournament, one which has been marred by accusations of corruption and human rights abuses.

Controversies have rumbled on into the opening week. Players were forced to abandon plans to protest the country’s anti-LGBT+ laws by wearing “OneLove” armbands after it emerged captains risked being booked. Fans have also reported merchandise bearing rainbow symbols being confiscated upon entry to the grounds, and the sale of alcohol at World Cup venues was forbidden at the 11th hour.

Crowd sizes in Doha have raised eyebrows too, with official attendance figures often higher than stadium capacities – and that is even with thousands of visibly empty seats.

These are the issues the tournament will ultimately be remembered for, with Qatar unable to salvage national pride through their efforts on the pitch.

Sanchez, their head coach, had hit out at Qatar’s critics, branding online criticism of the state “very dangerous” and insisting it would not “destabilise us”.

“Obviously we don’t like people criticising our country,” he said. “In terms of football strictly, we had a great preparation ahead of the World Cup.”

Dutch lack of firepower leaves Van Gaal gloomy

Cody Gakpo’s early goal was the Netherlands’ only shot on target (Photo: Getty)

Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador (Gakpo 6′ | Valencia 49′)

By Pete Hall, in DOHA — The ever brutally honest Louis van Gaal alluded to something that is now glaringly obvious to the rest of us on several occasions in the build-up to this World Cup.

If Netherlands are going to win the trophy that is a missing piece in his vast collection, they will have to do it by being a near-perfect unit, with individual talent in the ranks as far from any Total Football Dutch teams of yesteryear as it gets.

Cody Gakpo’s strike after just six minutes got many people’s picks as having an outside chance of winning the tournament off the perfect start, following a 2-0 win over Senegal in their opener.

But such optimism will have all but dissipated after what followed against an enthusiastic Ecuador.

Qualification for the knockout rounds should still be a shoo-in, needing to avoid defeat to Qatar in their final group match. Getting any further could be another matter.

There is not much Van Gaal can do about it. Other than Gakpo, and a half-fit Memphis Depay, his forward options are pitiful. With Depay again not fit enough to start, he was forced to play Steven Bergwijn, a winger, as his lone striker.

It showed. Gakpo’s strike was the outlier, as the Dutch did not muster another shot, on or off target, until the 66th minute. Their two shots overall is their lowest tally ever in a World Cup game since 1966, when such data became available.

Ecuador are always excellent value at a major tournament as their supporters, even at this World Cup when keeping costs down is tough, bring the life, vibrancy and colour needed to create a spectacle.

Swathes of yellow splashed all over the stadium were in buoyant mood, singing “yes we can.” And they very nearly did.

Ecuador must have forgotten what it was like to concede, given Gakpo’s effort was the first time they had been breached in 701 minutes, but it had a galvanising effect as from there on in there was only one team in the contest.

The Dutch got an almighty reprieve as Pervis Estupinan thought he had instinctively equalised, only for it to be ruled out for offside against Jackson Porozo, who was in the goalkeeper’s line of vision.

Undeterred and unthreatened by the Netherlands, the South Americans kept coming, with World Cup goal machine Enner Valencia prodding home from the rebound early in the second half.

The crossbar was rattled, other chances came and went. But nothing at all from the men in orange. And what did Van Gaal have left to turn to from the bench? His three forward options, once Depay had come on for the ineffective Bergwijn at half-time, were three big target men, in a world where target men no longer have a place.

“I think that we did not play a good match,” Van Gaal said. “We didn’t play well with all our possession, that is our problem. Also, all the second balls, all the duels, were for Ecuador. They could have won.”

“If you want to become world champions, we need to improve a lot, because the quality of the opponents we have yet to face is at a much higher level.”

That is the most worrying thing for Van Gaal on his last dance. Being this ineffective against Ecuador does not bode well.

There are few tacticians who have as many tricks up their sleeve in world football as Van Gaal, but on this evidence he will have pull a rabbit out of a hat to inspire this team to even the latter rounds.

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