Another embarrassing display from Qatar ended in defeat and almost certain elimination from the World Cup but at least fans of the host nation inside a half-full Al Thumama Stadium had some consolation: they got to see their side score.
Senegal were themselves far from impressive but still had too much for their hapless opponents, who are making a strong case for the title of worst home nation of all time; unless Ecuador beat the Netherlands later on Friday, they will be out. After two defeats Qatar must now hope to salvage some pride in their final group match against the Netherlands, as only the unlikely combination of an emphatic victory and other results going their way would be enough to progress to the knockout stages.
Following their defeat to the Dutch, Senegal’s coach, Aliou Cissé, changed his formation to a 4-4-2 and a more aggressive approach ultimately paid off as both strikers – Boulaye Dia and Famara Diedhiou – got on the scoresheet. Qatar brought the game back into the balance with 12 minutes to go with a simple goal that was well taken by Mohammed Muntari but by that point the Qatari fan exodus had already occurred and Bamba Dieng sealed matters with five minutes of normal time remaining.
A largely stodgy match began with a sterile first half, Idrissa Gueye’s long-range effort the closest either side came to scoring in the opening 40 minutes. But Qatar were so poor on the ball, unable to keep possession or execute passes, that a mistake always looked likely to cost them.
A comical error duly arrived in the 41st minute. A rare attempt at a Senegalese through ball, Krépin Diatta’s pass missed its intended targets, falling instead at the feet of the centre-half Boualem Khoukhi. As the defender looked to clear he instead caught his foot on the ball, lost his balance, fell on his bottom, and surrendered possession to Dia, who happily accepted the gift and fired low past Meshaal Barsham.
Within three minutes of the restart Qatar were two down. This time the goal was all Senegal’s own work, Ismail Jakobs driving a corner to the near post where Dia’s strike partner, Diedhiou, leaped powerfully above his marker to loop a header into the net, before charging to the touchline to celebrate with the Senegal substitutes.
If this was a moment of exhilaration for the Africans, their World Cup campaign still alive, it didn’t manifest itself in improved performance. Cissé’s men were still lumpy in possession, slow to force opportunities or get off shots.
Considering the quality of the opposition it didn’t appear to matter, but then the hosts began to rally. Édouard Mendy was forced into two saves: the first tipping a long-range effort from Almoez Ali around his right hand post; the second, four minutes later, an even quicker reaction as he stopped a point-blank effort from Ismail Mohamad, an attempted header that ended up coming off the wing-back’s knee.
A third goal at this point would have helped Senegal’s cause in attempted qualification from Group A, taking them ahead of Ecuador on goal difference at least momentarily. But instead the African champions sat in and Cissé gave a rest to some of his leading stars. It was then that Qatar struck, the substitute Muntari taking a standing jump to power home a swirling cross from Mohamad.
The cheer from the Qatari crowd was hearty but not enough to drown out the massed band of Senegalese drummers who dictated the atmosphere in the crowd. Indeed, the goal only served to wake up Senegal. Suddenly for the first time the Africa Cup of Nations champions were on the front foot and playing the ball on the ground. After an impressive run into the box from Sheffield United’s Iliman Ndiaye, Dieng was on hand to turn home a third goal.