DOHA, Qatar -- There's a good chance the World Cup will go from bad to worse for the Qatar team if the players don't conquer their nerves when they face African champion Senegal in their second group match.
“We usually say that you learn from mistakes.” Qatar’s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez said on Thursday. “Let’s hope that we’ve freed ourselves from all this pressure or tension that was there on the first day."
The Qataris are already the first hosts to lose the opening game of a World Cup after they were overwhelmed by their nation's biggest sporting occasion in a 2-0 Group A defeat to Ecuador on Sunday.
That puts them in danger of also being only the second host after South Africa in 2010 to be eliminated in the group stage.
But what about losing every game? Or the dismal prospect of failing to score a goal at their home World Cup?
That would likely pile even more criticism on FIFA's decision to award the World Cup to the small but very wealthy Gulf emirate that had never qualified for the game's biggest tournament before winning the right to host it 12 years ago.
Qatar’s next chance to show it deserves a place on a World Cup field comes Friday against Senegal, a team still boasting an array of players from the top leagues in England, Spain, Italy and France even if it is missing injured forward Sadio Mane.
“Let us compete at our highest level and show that we can compete much more than we did the other day, regardless of the result,” Sanchez said.
Qatar might be the 2019 Asian champion, but every squad member plays for a local club at home in an indicator maybe of the gap between them and the standard required at a World Cup.
Sanchez suggested the World Cup was part of a longer-term project to develop soccer in the Gulf country.
“We are a small country with a very small population. I don’t know if there is any other country that has organized a World Cup like Qatar,” Sanchez said. “I am convinced that after the World Cup, Qatar will continue to work so that the level of its soccer continues to improve within the possibilities and limitations we have.”
Qatar's struggles also stand out after other teams from Arab countries have made themselves more at home at the first World Cup in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia's colossal upset defeat of Argentina was followed by impressive performances from Tunisia and Morocco in the tournament's first week.
Senegal also slipped to an opening loss at the World Cup but troubled a strong Netherlands team before second-half injuries to midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate and defender Abdou Diallo interrupted the West Africans' rhythm and the Dutch took advantage to score two late goals.
“Senegal was not bad. We stood up to one of the best teams in the world, with world-class players,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said. “I'm very happy with my players, very proud of my players.”
Cisse said Diallo resumed training Wednesday and “it went very well, I hope he'll be on the training field today and we'll see how it goes.” Kouyate remains doubtful to play against Qatar.
Cisse said the focus for his team is up front, where he has high expectations for a new forward line combination of Ismaila Sarr, Boulaye Dia and Krepin Diatta.
“Scoring is a state of mind. You need a certain aggression to put the ball in the back of the net. Our forwards are capable of scoring. They've shown this already in the past,” Cisse said. “I'm certain they'll show it again tomorrow.”
They didn't quite get it right in their first game together after Mane was ruled out, but if they do against Qatar as Cisse expects it could be another long day at the World Cup for the hosts.
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