The show is over already for the Qatar team, which was eliminated Friday from the World Cup less than a week after it launched the first version of soccer’s biggest event in the Middle East.
Qatar lost, 3-1, to Senegal for its second straight defeat at the World Cup and its exit was confirmed a few hours later, when Netherlands and Ecuador drew, 1-1, in the other Group A game. Becoming the quickest host nation team to depart the tournament in the 92-year history of the World Cup, Qatar can’t qualify for the last 16 no matter what happens in its last game against Netherlands.
South Africa had been the only other home team to fail to make it out the group stage, but it at least managed a win and a draw in 2010.
“If you expected us to go very far in this tournament, then it will be a disappointment,” Qatar coach Félix Sánchez said before his team was officially out. “Our goal was to be competitive.”
The writing was on the wall from the very start for Qatar, playing in its first World Cup having received an automatic pass through qualification. The team may be the 2019 Asian champion, but looked nervous and was overwhelmed in a 2-0 loss to Ecuador last Sunday. Friday’s performance was not much better for a squad that all plays in the local league and is missing the kind of top talent that is present in almost every World Cup team now.
Qatar at least scored this time, a second-half header by substitute Mohammed Muntari, a Ghanaian-born striker. At 2-1, Qatar threatened a comeback against the African champion for just six minutes before Bamba Dieng responded to reestablish a two-goal cushion.
Senegal came closer to adjusting to life without injured star Sadio Mané, with forwards Boulaye Dia, Famara Diedhiou, and Dieng all getting on the scoresheet. It will face Ecuador on Tuesday, both playing for a place in the last 16.
Protest precedes Iranian upset of Wales
Tensions ran high ahead of Iran’s surprise 2-0 victory over Wales, as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts, and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.
Some fans were stopped by security guards from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled, and booed. Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back, “The Islamic Republic!”
Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.
After Iran’s victory, crowds of Iranian fans wildly waving national flags streamed out of the stadium. They thronged a group of protesters who held up photos of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose Sept. 16 death in the custody of the morality police first unleashed the protests, yelling “Victory!” to drown out chants of Amini’s name.
One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns encircled her and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on it.
“I’m not here to fight with anyone, but people have been attacking me and calling me a terrorist,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “All I’m here to say is that football doesn’t matter if people are getting killed in the streets.”
Maryam and her friends had worn hats emblazoned with the name of an outspoken Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on accusations of spreading propaganda against the government. She said Iranian government supporters had taken the hats from their heads.
Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup team, but was surprisingly not named in the squad this year.
In the match, Rouzbeh Cheshmi scored in the eighth minute of second-half stoppage time to break a scoreless stalemate. His strike from outside the box was just beyond the diving reach of Wales backup goalkeeper Danny Ward, who was pressed into duty when starter Wayne Hennessey was sent off in the 86th minute for a high challenge on Mehdi Taremi.
Ramin Rezaeian added a second goal moments later and Iran wildly celebrated — tossing coach Carlos Queiroz in the air — while Welsh players dropped in disbelief to the field.
“I believe this was the solidarity between the team members that we were able to achieve this result,” Cheshmi said afterward through a translator.
Iran has never advanced to the knockout round at a World Cup. A win over the US on Tuesday would guarantee that; Iran could also advance with a draw provided England beats Wales, which will need a win and US-Iran draw to move on.
Neymar to miss next match for Brazil
Brazilian soccer star Neymar will not play Monday against Switzerland after he injured a lateral ligament on his right ankle and has small bone swelling, Rodrigo Lasmar, the team’s doctor, said in a statement on Neymar’s website.
“I can say in advance that we will not have both players for the next match, but they remain in treatment with the objective of trying to recover them in time for this competition,” said Lasmar, referring also to Danilo, who injured his left ankle and also will not play.
Both players received treatment after the match and were reevaluated Friday morning, with scheduled daily follow-ups planned. Neymar’s ankle was visibly swollen as he walked off the field Thursday.
Brazil beat Serbia, 2-0, and leads Group G on goal difference over the Swiss. After Switzerland, the team will play Cameroon on Friday.
Valencia first to three
Ecuadorean captain Enner Valencia became the first player to three goals in this World Cup, his 49th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands extending his streak of scoring all six of Ecuador’s goals at World Cup tournaments since 2014. The 33-year-old talisman was surrounded by teammates who joined him in a joyous circle of celebration, after Cody Gakpo had fired the Dutch into a sixth-minute lead with a rising shot from the edge of the penalty area — the fastest goal scored so far in Qatar. Each moved up to four points in Group A, meaning a draw Tuesday against Senegal guarantees Ecuador a place in the knockout round. Valencia was stretchered off the field in the 90th minute, but he was able to get up and walk the bench, where a bag of ice was taped to his right leg . . . Both Argentina and FIFA commemorated the second anniversary of Diego Maradona’s death, this the first World Cup since 1978 without the icon. A few thousand fans gathered at Doha’s historic Souq Waqif market to honor Maradona and show their support to the national team. Coach Lionel Scaloni said before Saturday’s decisive match against Mexico that he hoped to “bring some joy to Maradona if he is looking down at us from the sky.” Maradona died at age 60 on Nov. 25, 2020, while under hospital care in his home following brain surgery; judicial authorities continue to investigate if medical negligence was involved. FIFA president Gianni Infantino called Maradona “immortal” in front of a real-size statue of Maradona unveiled at an event, and said at every World Cup going forward, a day will be reserved to celebrate him.