Qatar defeated El Salvador 3-2 in a thrilling quarter-final to seal their place in the 2021 Gold Cup semi-finals at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Saturday night. A brace by Almoez Ali and Abdulaziz Hatim’s strike saw Qatar race into a 3-0 lead before El Salvador pulled two back to give the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions a nervy final 25 minutes.
Qatar, however, held on for the win, which propells them into a semi-final against either the United States or Jamaica on Thursday. Qatar’s coach Felix Sanchez praised the fighting performance of his side, his side deserved to reach the semi-finals.
“First of all, I congratulate the players on this achievement for reaching the semifinals of the Gold Cup in which they are participating for the first time,” Sanchez said. “This is a competition that is never easy for any team. With a fighting performance like this, that’s why we deserve to be in the semifinals,” Sanchez said.
“We played a good match in which we dominated for 60 minutes where we were the best in all parts of the pitch and scored three goals – including two goals in the first 10 minutes or so. After that, El Salvador led attacks on our goal in an intense manner in which they managed to score two goals. They were able to form battling resistance, and this made the match difficult for us,” he added.
When asked about whether he expected to reach the semis, Sanchez said: “Our presence in this tournament is no different from our participation in other tournaments in which we always try to compete as well. We participated with 15 teams and appeared at an extraordinary level, and we are now in the semifinals.”
Qatar raced off the blocks to take the lead in the second minute following a swift counter-attacking move that surprised their Central American opponents.
Hugo Perez’s men, who advanced as the Group A runners-up behind Mexico, were punished for giving away possession as Akram Afif weaved his way past the El Salvador defence before setting up Ali to score from inside the box.
El Salvador responded with Alexander Larín having a look at the goal in the fifth minute, but he failed to find the target from outside the box. Qatar oozed confidence and tightened their grip on the game in the eighth minute, with Hatim spectacularly finishing a fantastic build-up from just above the box.
Qatar, playing on an invitational basis, could have extended their lead, but Hatim, Karim Boudiaf and Afif failed to finish their opportunities. El Salvador tried to claw their way back into the game but could not convert their chances as Qatar took a two-goal cushion into the break. El Salvador gave Qatar another chance to get on the scoresheet after a penalty was given due to a handball inside the box in the second half. Ceren’s extended arm blocked an Almoez Ali shot, and the referee pointed to the spot following a Video Review. Ali, the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 MVP and Golden Boot winner, made no mistake from the spot, slotting home coolly past goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez to net his fourth goal of the Gold Cup.
El Salvador, however, did not throw in the towel and pulled one back in the 63rd minute courtesy of Joaquín Rivas, who found a way through the Qatar defence to score past Meshaal Barsham. The Central Americans continued to apply pressure, and Rivas scored his second three minutes later with another well-crafted build-up. Rivas then thought he found his crowning achievement, a hat-trick goal to tie things up. However, as he found the back of the net, the FC Tulsa attacker saw that the linesman had raised his flag and called the play offside. Qatar, however, held off El Salvador’s late surge to walk away with the win and book their place in the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, Mexico took another step towards defending their Gold Cup title, scoring three first-half goals en route to a 3-0 rout of short-handed Honduras in a quarter-final match. The holders cruised past a depleted Honduras squad that had lost several players to injury and Covid-19 safety protocols.
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