Felix Sanchez insists Qatar 'free from all pressure' after tough World Cup opener

Manager backs team to play with freedom against Senegal on Friday

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez after the loss to Ecuador in the opening match of World Cup 2022. AFP
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Qatar manager Felix Sanchez hopes the Fifa World Cup hosts are now free from the pressure they experienced in Sunday's opening match, saying his team have not paid attention to the criticism that followed the defeat to Ecuador.

The home side were beaten 2-0 in the tournament curtain-raiser on Sunday, where they were largely outplayed as the strain of kick-starting the finals, 12 years in the making, clearly told.

In losing, Qatar became the first World Cup hosts in history to suffer defeat in their opening game.

The Gulf side, the current Asian Cup holders, will look to bounce back on Friday against African champions Senegal, who were also beaten 2-0 in their Group A opener, by the Netherlands.

Speaking a day out from the game at Al Thumama Stadium, Sanchez said: “We usually say that we learn from mistakes, so we hope that now we are free from all this pressure that we had in the opening match.

“I hope we can compete, can bring our ‘A’ game, and show that we can be more competitive than the other day, regardless of what is the result.

“We know that we will be facing a team on the pitch trying to win, with a very high level. So we need to improve our level, try to be ourselves and let’s see what happens.

“Of course, it is a football match, there are many different factors. But the main factor is to have our best performance. We have a lot of room for improvement.”

On Sunday, following an extravagant opening ceremony at Al Bayt Stadium, Qatar were 2-0 down with little more than half an hour played. The performance prompted a significant number of supporters to leave the stadium well before the final whistle.

Asked about how the criticism that followed affected his team, Sanchez said: “It was a momentous day and unfortunately we couldn’t give our fans all the joy they expected. As coach and players that’s the pressure you feel in your profession with the expectation of always performing well.

“We try to isolate ourselves from criticism and we focus only on ourselves, on what we do on a daily basis, on how we prepare the game. We try to avoid external voices as these do not contribute either positively or negatively. We try to isolate ourselves.”

Qatar will need a result against Senegal – the Africans, already missing star forward Sadio Mane, are likely to be without injured midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate - if they are to avoid becoming only the second host to be eliminated in the group stage, after South Africa in 2010.

Defender Ismaeel Mohammed, sitting alongside Sanchez on Thursday, said Qatar could draw inspiration from Saudi Arabia and Japan, who began their World Cup with upset victories against Argentina and Germany, respectively.

“It goes without saying that the teams you mentioned and the performance we saw from them up until now, especially the Arab teams, is making us maybe a bit jealous and motivating us to perform as well as they have.

“Nonetheless, we want to focus on ourselves. We want to give our all tomorrow. Besides what the other teams are doing on the pitch, we want to be ourselves. We want to prove ourselves on the pitch.”

Updated: November 24, 2022, 10:51 AM