Doha: The quarter-final jigsaw at the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 now has half of its pieces in place after Algeria, Egypt and Morocco followed hosts Qatar in securing a last-eight berth with a game to spare.
Each qualified in fine style, with the Atlas Lions and Pharaohs especially impressive in putting four and five unanswered goals past Jordan and Sudan respectively. And while Morocco’s goal difference, the healthiest in the tournament, ensures that they will almost certainly go through as section winners, their fellow North African quarter-finalists face a fierce battle to determine top spot in Group D.
Egypt 5-0 win
When Ahmed Refaat sent a wonderful right-foot free-kick crashing back off the crossbar just four minutes into Egypt’s 5-0 win over Sudan, it seemed we’d narrowly missed out on one of the goals of the tournament. But the Egypt star had other ideas. When the panicked clearance that followed spun and looped in his direction, Refaat adjusted his body in an instant and - with his left foot this time, and from an even greater distance – smashed home an unstoppable volley. It was a display of pure, glorious, two-footed technique that will take some beating between now and the final on 18 December.
Moroccan eyes on the prize
Of all the bands of travelling supporters at this tournament, Morocco’s have been among the most colourful and enthusiastic. They are unabashed, too, in loudly stating their lofty ambitions for the Atlas Lions in Qatar, chanting today: “The people want the Arab Cup title!” And while there is a long way to go, and more than a few strong sides with the same ambition, the Moroccans – as they have shown with two successive, highly impressive 4-0 wins – will take some stopping.
Cedars’ sad salute
Lebanon’s FIFA Arab Cup squad woke up this morning to the devastating news that COVID-19 had claimed the life of Mahmoud Hammoud, a towering figure in the country who had both played for and coached the national team. Several of the current players had worked under the 57-year-old, and all marked his passing by sporting black armbands in today’s match against Algeria. They honoured him, too, with a determined and disciplined performance against the significantly higher-ranked Fennecs, holding out for three-quarters of the match before ultimate succumbing to their opponents’ superior quality.
One first achieved, another thwarted
Palestine’s Mohammed Rashid had never scored an international goal. The 26-year-old ended his wait in spectacular style, bursting forward from midfield to unleash a right-foot rocket that flew high into the net from 30 yards. It was a stunning strike from a player who spent a season playing in Saudi Arabia’s second tier, and who looked to have all but ended the Green Falcons’ chances of making the quarter-finals. But just as Rashid’s first-ever international goal looked to have secured Palestine’s first-ever win in this fixture, Saudi Arabia substitutes Abdullah Al Hamdan and Haitham Asiri combined for a late equaliser that leaves three teams chasing second spot in Group C.
13 - This was the highest-scoring matchday of the FIFA Arab Cup thus far, with 13 goals – an average of 3.25 per game – bringing fans to their feet. It also set a less desirable record, with four red cards – spread evenly between just two matches - comfortably registering a new tournament benchmark for ill-discipline.
“We played at a very high tempo, with a lot of intensity, especially in the first half. The fans must be proud of the players. I know that I am very proud of them. They have taken their opportunity here and are showing that they are quality players. Now they must rest and move forward to face Algeria. Both teams have had great results; now it’s time to decide which of us finishes top of the group.” Carlos Queiroz, Egypt coach