By Nick Webster in Santa Clara
July 2 – It has been said that one is never enough, however despite having a paltry 24% of the possession Qatar stunned Mexico with a 27th minute goal by Hazem Shehata to seal a famous 1-0 victory.
It is the surprise win of the group stages and three points that sends the Qataris to the knockout round at the expense of Honduras in Group B.
In front of 60,000 fanatical tri-color supporters the atmosphere was one of a party as the game kicked off under brilliant Californian sunshine.
As early as the 4th minute the Mexican wave was rolling around Levi Stadium as the Group B leader began the contest in exhilarating fashion. Under new head coach, Jaime Lozano this is a team reborn playing with pace, verve and the confidence of two consecutive wins that had seen them move to the top of the group and automatic qualification to the next phase.
By the 10th minute, Qatar was feeling the pace and goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham, who would be the man-of-the-match, was already playing the pantomime villain wasting time with non-existent injuries much to the disgust of the home crowd who responded with the first of many ‘Puto’ chants.
The Marrons had barely ventured from their half, such was the pressure of the Mexican press, that their goal stunned the entire stadium.
A brilliant ball whipped in from the right by Musaab Khidir found the head of defender, Hazem Shehata, and his bullet header was too hot for Guillermo Ochoa to handle as he could only palm it into the back of the net. The Mexican right back Julian Araujo didn’t cover himself in glory either as he was statuesque as Shehata stepped in front of him.
Behind for the first time in the tournament, Mexico responded brightly and efforts by Santiago Gimenez and Edson Alvarez had Barsham scrambling to keep his clean sheet. In the 34th minute Barsham went down again in his box and the febrile crowd was amped up another notch on a temperature dial that was rising upwards.
The half-time whistle was a welcome relief for Qatar who’d spent the entire half on the rack, however, they asked Mexico the questions and the Tri-Color was unable to have the answers.
With the onus on Mexico to keep attacking they didn’t disappoint as they kept up the pressure and a superb left footed volley by Gimenez brought the best out of Barsham at the far post.
As the game moved into the 60th minute, Qatar could sense that maybe this would be their night and began deploying the darker arts of the game, wasting time and feigning injury at every opportunity. The ‘Puto’ chants grew louder as the frustration set in and Concacaf officials grew more concerned despite stadium announcements to refrain.
Canadian referee Drew Fischer became the centre of attention in the 63rd minute as Gimenez and Qatari captain, Ahmed Abdoulla tangled leaving both players writhing on the turf. Fischer was alerted by VAR and replays seemed to show contact as Gimenez flicked out his arm catching Abdoulla in the face.
A red card seemed the likely outcome but with the stadium about to erupt in volcanic fury, Fischer’s hand went from his back short pocket to his shirt and pulled out the yellow card. Perhaps the wrong decision according to the letter of the law but certainly a decision based on personal safety.
With time ebbing away, Alvarez headed against the upright, while Henry Martin had a spectacular bicycle kick that found the grateful arms of Barsham. Gimenez and Israel Reyes both had presentable chances but just missed with headers that drifted by the far post.
As Mexico began running out of ideas Fischer became the busiest individual on the pitch dishing out yellow cards like confetti. Qatar would finish with 10 players in his notebook despite their not being a bad tackle in the course of play.
Additional play added another ten minutes to the contest, but it could’ve been ten hours as Barsham would simply not be beaten. As the final whistle blew, he was mobbed by delirious teammates as the one-nil win was good enough for second place on goal difference and a date on July 8 in Arlington, Texas, awaits the Maroons against the winners of Group C.
As for Mexico, they’ll face the runners-up of Group C and a realistic chance of facing the USA in the final at SoFi Stadium on July 16 if the form book does what it is supposed to do. After this result though, betting on the form book could result in a one-way ticket to the poor house.
Contact the writer of this story, Nick Webster, at moc.l1709087926labto1709087926ofdlr1709087926owedi1709087926sni@o1709087926fni1709087926