It’s do or die for Senegal
World Cup hosts Qatar face Senegal in a crucial Group A match at the Al Thumama Stadium today.
Both nations are playing catch-up following opening-day defeats at the finals.
Qatar let themselves down massively in their clash with Ecuador on Sunday which kicked off the tournament, falling to a 2-0 loss to the South American side.
Getting thoroughly outplayed by CONMEBOL’s weakest qualified side gave a true indication of their stature on the global stage, but luckily for them, they still have time to prove people’s perceptions wrong.
However, the facts will say that Qatar are the first host nation in World Cup history to lose their opening fixture.
Not only that, but the Maroons are also the first hosts not to have shot on target in a match at the finals since the USA failed to do so in their last 16 defeats to Brazil in 1994.
Manager Felix Sanchez claimed his side were “nervous”, and their performance did represent the look of a side that froze on the big occasion.
The fact that they were seemingly incapable of doing the basics such as passing and pressing suggests it was some sort of mentality issue because this was a side that won the Asian Cup in 2019.
They were top scorers in that competition and repeated the feat at the 2021 Gold Cup which they were invited to take part in, but attacking duo Almoez Ali and Akram Afif were bystanders in the game with Ecuador.
Another poor defeat here will only enhance the arguments against them being hosts in a footballing sense, as they have yet to show themselves as worthy of competing at this level.
Meanwhile, while suffering the same fate as the hosts, Senegal had a lot to be impressed with in their performance against the Netherlands on Monday.
Their build-up play in the attack was easy on the eye and, for the most part, they were solid defensively.
However, two huge errors from Edouard Mendy cost the Lions of Teranga heavily as they also fell to a 2-0 defeat.
Cody Gakpo’s 84th-minute header for the opening goal was the first shot on target the Dutch had in the match, which again illustrates how well Senegal did to stifle them for much of the game.
A first clean sheet in nine World Cup finals matches looks more likely for Senegal here though, given the opposition they will be facing.
Their defensive record in Africa has been impressive, as they conceded just twice on their way to Africa Cup of Nations glory at the start of the year and let in just three in six games afterwards before this tournament.
However, to claim a vital three points, they will need to find a clinical edge, and not having Sadio Mane poses a huge dilemma for Aliou Cisse’s side.
Even when Mane was fit, Cisse struggled to settle on a regular starting striker, as their top scorer from qualifying, Famara Diedhiou, has had injury troubles this year.
Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb looked very ropey in the match with Ecuador, and both backup keepers have featured in pre-tournament friendlies.
If Sanchez opts to make a change, then Meshaal Barsham is the obvious choice given he saved the deciding penalty in their Arab Cup final victory over Egypt in 2021 and is seen as less erratic.
Al Sheeb was one of four players booked on Sunday, so they all run the risk of suspension in the final game against the Dutch, with striking pair Ali and Afif as well as Karim Boudiaf also on a yellow card.
Captain Hassan Al Haydos is set to earn his 171st cap for Qatar here in midfield as one of five centurions expected to start.
Senegal have revealed that Abdou Diallo is fine to return to the training immediately despite going off with muscle cramps against Holland.
That will be a relief as Diallo has filled in as a makeshift left-back given the injury to Fode Ballo-Toure in the lead-up to the finals.
However, Cheikhou Kouyate is not as fortunate, as the Nottingham Forest midfielder was stretched off with a muscle problem of his own and will miss this fixture.
It is rumoured that Edouard Mendy could be dropped after his horror show on Monday, with Queens Park Rangers’ Seny Dieng waiting in the wings to take his place.