Sun, 05 Feb 2023

At the patriotically titled Mall of Qatar, the fate of the national football team was digested on Tuesday night along with French fries, burgers, buns, pizzas and a mouthwatering array of other international delicacies.

Partisans mingled with England and Wales fans stocking up for their game at the nearby Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium at the score of outlets harboured around four giant screens in the atrium of the food hall.

As the neutrals feasted 20 kilometres to the west of central Doha, the Netherlands began tucking into Qatar's soft underbelly nearly 50km further north.

Games against Ecuador on 20 November and Senegal five days later had exposed it. The Netherlands needed to feed from it one more time to sustain themselves.

Qatar, playing at their first World Cup, went into their final match of Group A already eliminated from their tournament.

Stakes

Felix Sanchez's men could, at best, derail the Netherlands' attempt to reach the latter stages with a thumping win which would allow Senegal and Ecuador to advance if they played out a draw in their tie at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Permutations of such fantasy were skewered mid way through the first-half when Cody Gakpo notched up his second goal of the tournament to give the Netherlands the lead.

Full control was seized just after half-time. Frenkie De Jong stabbed home after the Qatar goalkeeper Meshaal Aissa Barsham saved an effort from Memphis Depay.

"It's been very, very, very bad," said 33-year-old Ahmed Al Kathain as he stood and watched the end of the affair near a leaf covered column on the retail level above the diners.

"I thought I'd watch some of the last match just in case we won but it's not a surprise that we're doing badly."

Revamp

The 500,000 square metre mall - opened in 2016 - and the rapid construction of dazzling stadiums and metro systems for the World Cup stand as a testament to Qatari efficiency and dynamism in the yen to modernise the land and host the first World Cup in the Middle East.

However, the authorities have come under fire for staging the competition due to their treatment of the migrant workers who have built the infrastructure as well as their attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community.

"I'm proud that the World Cup has been held in Qatar," added Al Kathain, an officer in the Qatar special forces.

"And I'd be happy to see more international events here ... as for the football team they need to win. I really don't know what happened to them. They were so nervous."

Growth

Abdullah Al-Amri attributed the frailties to inexperience.

"All of the squad play here in Qatar and the other teams have players in the big leagues in Europe," added the 61-year-old..

"Qatar has never played in the World Cup and they were feeling the pressure. Perhaps the federation should try a new coach."

While the Netherlands advance to a last-16 date on Saturday with the United States, Qatar's football chiefs will continue the post-mortem.

But the ignominy of becoming only the second side after South Africa in 2010 to host a World Cup and fail to advance to the second phase will remain for at least four years.

By which time the national team, with or without a new coach, might have improved.

Originally published on RFI

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