Asian champions Qatar went to the United States of America with a target of making the semi-finals of the Concacaf Gold Cup on their debut appearance, and the in-form team has already achieved the task.
Al Annabi, now, are just a victory away from making history in the tournament. A win against the USA tomorrow in the first semi-final will make them the first Asian side to reach the Gold Cup final.
South Korea, an invited side from Asia, also reached the semi-final of the tournament back in 2002.
Playing as a guest team, Felix Sanchez-coached Qatar have shown brilliant performance and are unbeaten in the event so far. They topped their group claiming wins over Grenada and Honduras besides a draw against Panama in their opening match. In the quarter-final, Qatar defeated El Salvador 3-2 in a thrilling clash.
Qatar’s schedule has been hectic in the Gold Cup but the coach hoped it would not affect the team’s performance.
“The team is very excited for the semi-final against the US,” Sanchez said ahead of the match yesterday.
“All the players want to play a final and are looking forward to a strong performance against a tough side.”
Earlier he said: "We have played the championship since the first round to be competitive without considering that we are participating for the first time in the Gold Cup.”
Qatar goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham said it would be a tough match.
“The host team is in very good form and it is going to be tough challenge. But we are aiming to win the match and play the final. The experience of playing the Gold Cup is great,” said Barsham.
Not just in the Gold Cup, Al Annabi – a year before they enter the FIFA World Cup 2022 as the host nation – have been in phenomenal form as they are unbeaten in 10 international matches, winning eight of them besides playing two draws. They have featured in Asian and European FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers besides playing a few friendlies in the process.
Qatar’s Pedro Correia also expressed his confidence ahead of the semi-final against a tough side.
“We achieved our goal, which was to reach the semi-finals of the tournament. It was the important thing for us when we got to the venue,” he said.
Al Annabi have also enjoyed outstanding individual performances in the Gold Cup with Almoez Ali – the top scorer of AFC Asian Cup 2019 – again rising at a big stage. The feared striker is currently the top scorer in the tournament with four goals. Abdulaziz Hatem and Akram Afif follow him with three and two goals respectively.
Qatar have scored a total of 12 goals at an average of three goals per match.
But they are facing a side in the semi-final, which have relatively done well in the Gold Cup. Eyeing their seventh Gold Cup title, USA will meet Qatar in tomorrow’s semi-final after claiming four consecutive wins.
The hosts have scored nine goals in the event and have conceded just one goal as goalkeeper Matt Turner posted three clean sheets.
"Without a doubt it'll be difficult," US coach Gregg Berhalter said.
"Qatar has looked great in this tournament. They are already in the semi-finals. That gives you a warning."
US midfielder Cristian Roldan said:"Qatar is going to be really difficult. They play in a 5-3-2, they're really difficult to break down and they're a transition team, so we have to be smart."
The semi-final between USA and Qatar will mark the first match at the Gold Cup and it will also be the first game of the tournament to be played at Q2 Stadium in Texas capital of Austin.
The 20,500 seat stadium was opened on June 16, 2021, hosting an international women’s friendly between the United States and Nigeria.
The match will kick off at 2:30am, Qatar time early tomorrow morning.