Doha:The FIFA Arab Cup 2021™ has its first confirmed quarter-finals, with Qatar-UAE and Tunisia-Oman set to kick off the knockout phase on Friday.
Those ties were set after a dramatic day of action on which fortunes fluctuated and positions changed, with the Eagles of Carthage leapfrogging the Emiratis into top spot in Group B and Oman streaking past Iraq to qualify from Group A.
The latter owed much to an impressive second-half showing from the hosts, with plenty in all four games for FIFA.com to reflect on ahead of the group stage’s final matchday.
Group A’s other quarter-finalists Oman were also able to rest their scoring stars, but only after racing into an unassailable 3-0 lead against Bahrain. Arshad Al Alawi was the game’s central figure, heading home the second goal before turning provider to lay on the third for Khalid Al Hajri. The pair were withdrawn soon after by their Croatian coach, Branko Ivankovic, having been assured of their contribution to Oman – the lowest-ranked team to make it through thus far – taking their place in the last eight.
Super-subs’ value clear
With his side already assured of a quarter-final place and top spot in their section, it was no surprise to see Felix Sanchez make nine changes to his starting line-up for today’s meeting with Iraq. In terms of what it taught the Spanish coach about the FIFA World Cup™ hosts’ strength in depth, there were, in truth, few surprises. The good news was that Qatar’s second string functioned and competed well throughout; the bad that they lacked sparkle and penetration normally provided by their benched attackers, Akram Afif and Almoez Ali. Both, of course, came on to show exactly what Qatar had been missing, scoring fine goals within two minutes of each other to send the hosts through with an impressive, unblemished record.
From cheers to tears for Al Mawas
When Mahmoud Al Mawas stepped on to the pitch as a half-time substitute, he struggled to supress a smile as Syria fans loudly chanted his name. The talented midfielder, who also pulled on the captain’s armband, was seen as a potential saviour, having belatedly joined up with the squad just two days ago. Al Mawas so very nearly lived up to the supporters’ hopes and expectations too, curling in a superb 90th-minute free-kick that looked set to send Syria through only for the ball to crash back off the crossbar. When that near miss was followed soon after by a shock Mauritanian winner, the 28-year-old couldn’t hold back the tears. Al Mawas cut short a pitch-side interview in an attempt to compose himself but, later, was still to be found weeping disconsolately as he reached the team bus.
Leader Jaziri’s debt of gratitude
Sinking UAE with his third goal of this FIFA Arab Cup took Seifeddine Jaziri out on his own as the tournament’s top scorer. But if ever a goal owed more to its creator than the man who provided the finishing touch, it was this one. Youssef Msakni certainly deserved more than a mere assist for skipping away from five separate Emirati defenders en route to Jaziri tapping his crucial, qualification-sealing strike into an empty net. But the Tunisia captain, who plays his club football for Doha outfit Al Arabi, can reflect with pride on having played an inspirational role in prolonging his team’s Arab Cup adventure.