World Cup hosts: “Difficult emotional factors”

Dhe World Cup is not very old, but it could set a record for eternity this Friday. If the results are unfavourable, Qatar then threatens to become the nation in history to be eliminated from the tournament faster than any other host. Due to the extremely tight schedule of this particular Winter World Cup, the five days in which something was at stake for the collective from the emirate will probably not be undercut either, so right winger Ismail Mohammad formulates a clear request to his compatriots, who were disappointed by the opening game : “In the name of God, I think the last game is history. The team needs support more than ever. We want to make everyone proud.”

He’s alluding to the lack of support in the 2-0 defeat by Ecuador, when thousands of people headed home after the break because their side were not only behind, but also woefully inferior. In the middle of the second half the stadium was half empty. “It won’t happen again,” says a Qatari journalist in the World Cup’s huge media center, who explains that in this country it’s actually “normal” to go home long before the final whistle if a soccer game doesn’t go as planned takes. When asked about the general mood in the country towards the al-Anabbi (“the wine reds”), he says everything is “okay” and claims that Germans also went before the final whistle in the 2-1 draw against Japan. Another Qatari states that he “doesn’t really want to talk about this topic”, formulating free and critical words towards the team is obviously not a matter of course.

But it can be felt that the relationship between the people and their team is not entirely unencumbered. Of course there were hopes and dreams, but the stories that were told and written after the opening game amazed many a Qatari. Actually, in this country, it’s a matter of politeness not to embarrass anyone; that the rush of spectators during the opening game in Europe gave the impression that people wanted to humiliate the players with their disinterest instead of encouraging them in this difficult moment is therefore not true.

Sober look at national players

There is also no storm of indignation like the one sweeping over the German team. The newspapers report very matter-of-factly, face-to-face and free of emotions. Nevertheless, coach Felix Sanchez says he is trying to “isolate the team from criticism, external voices are avoided”. When asked about his team’s standing in the country, he answered evasively: “I think the atmosphere is excellent. We have a great World Cup. Unfortunately, we couldn’t give the fans the good fortune.” The looming scenario of going out faster than any World Cup host has gone before doesn’t interest him, says Sanchez, who believes his side can do a lot more than they showed in the first game.


Leap into the void: Qatar’s Pedro Miguel lost sight of the ball in a duel with Pervis Estupian.
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Image: dpa

As he did immediately after the final whistle of the opening game, he explains the poor performance with the “nervousness” of his players, there are “many emotional factors that are difficult,” he says. He was probably quite surprised at the enormous difference in performance compared to the Ecuadorians, as there hadn’t been any indication of that in the long preparations for the tournament. For months we practiced and tested in Spain and Austria over the summer, often with good results. In addition to the opening game, the team has only lost once in official international matches in 2022 against Bulgaria, Chile, Slovenia and Albania, among others: 0-2 against Canada. They also scored some very remarkable goals, Sanchez replied when asked if mistakes had been made: “We gave the players a lot of top-level games against international clubs and also against national teams.” The only problem is that international clubs and National teams never play such friendlies with maximum energy, the ultimate competitive toughness is missing.

If Senegal’s physical superiority over the Qataris is similar to that of Ecuador, it would seem that the team’s tournament planning was a serious mistake. The team was prepared more meticulously than all of its competitors, but real competitive sport at the very highest level cannot be simulated in any friendly or training session. In the meantime, the coach is carefully preparing the nation for the World Cup project to come to an end soon. “We are a small country with a small population, we have to take all these factors into account, I am convinced that Qatar will continue to improve even after the World Cup,” he says. It sounds as if the belief that they can still reach the round of 16 has dwindled significantly in the days since the tournament began.

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