June 25 – Haiti squeezed past Qatar with a goal in stoppage time to secure a 2-1 crucial opening group win at the NRG Stadium in Houston.
Frantzdy Pierrot was the Haitian hero in a stop start game because of injuries but nevertheless saw chances for both teams to win. Haiti brought their physicality and it just about trumped Qatar’s pass and move game in the final reckoning.
This is the second time Qatar have guested at the Gold Cup having made the semi-finals in 2021 before losing to eventual winners the USA.
They arrived with a different looking and younger squad but without their creative lynchpin Akram Afif. Almoez Ali, top scorer at the 2021 Gold Cup with four goals, was left on the bench by new coach Carlos Queiroz, who shifted his management expertise from Iran to Qatar post the 2022 World Cup finals.
Qatar opened their campaign with a freedom that was missing from their World Cup performances where at times they seemed to be stuck like rabbits in the global football headlights.
But this was always going to be a game about whether they could face up to the athletic physicality that Haiti bring.
In the third minute Tarek Salman was booked after losing a tussle with Pierrot, but Qatar were showing they were up for the fight and Homan Ahmad was stretching an at times wobbly Haitian back four on the left.
On 16 minutes Haiti had a half-hearted appeal for a penalty brushed away and in the next two minutes Duckens Nazon should have done better bringing the ball down in the Qatari box, while Carlens Arcus blasted over from the edge of the box.
On 20 minutes, a little bit against the run of play, Alexandre Pierre in the Haiti goal failed to deal with a ball into the box. Yusef Abdurisag was on hand on the left to curl the ball in over a despairing Haiti defence.
Homan almost made it 2-0 after receiving the ball on the left from another free kick not dealt with by Haiti’s defence, but his shot skimmed the top of the bar.
Haiti were building possession but their final touch was failing them in front of goal.
The equaliser eventually came from the penalty spot. Pierrot’s shot hit Tarek on the arm in the box. Nazon stepped up to send Meshaal Barsham in Qatar’s goal the wrong way.
Haiti continued where they left off at the restart. On 51 minutes Derrick Etienne hammered his shot against the post.
On the hour mark Haiti looked to have their second penalty when Arcus looked to have been brought down in the box by Tarek – he was not having a happy night. This time he was saved by VAR who ruled the challenge was just outside the box. Qatar defended the free kick with ease.
With Haiti starting to labour, Qatar increasingly looked dangerous on the counter. Yusef almost had his second of the night on 75 minutes. Breaking down the right he fired his shot on to the outside edge of the post. Six minutes later Etienne scuffed a shot from the centre of the box wide.
The half had been a procession of stoppages for injuries, adding nine minutes to the clock. Yusef was body checked on the edge of the Haiti box but the free kick hit the wall. Pierrot immediately countered and curled his shot wide at the other end.
Qatar had grown into the game with their possession football but it was Haiti who had the final say with substitute Carnely Antoine breaking down the left and getting the ball across to Pierrot to tap in, seven minutes deep into added time.
It was a cruel blow for Qatar who remain a work in progress ahead of their 2024 Asian Cup defence and now move on to face Honduras. Haiti will meet Mexico on the same evening in Glendale, Arizona.
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