Qatar, having waited so long for this moment, sit a solitary match from exiting their home tournament at the first juncture.
Not one match, mind, as in the final round of Group A games, which comes around next Tuesday, against the Netherlands, no less.
No, the hosts’ fate could be sealed as soon as Friday night, after they followed that opening-day defeat to Ecuador with a loss to Senegal.
Thus, should the Dutch defeat the South Americans later on the same day, Qatar will be eliminated.
On Sunday, Felix Sanchez’s side became the first hosts to lose their opening match at a World Cup. Within five days, they could join South Africa as the only home team at a global finals not to get out of their group.
It would represent a real shame – tournaments typically are better when the host hope sustains – but, at Al Thumama Stadium on Friday, Qatar were once more the makers of their own downfall.
They lost 3-1 to Senegal, the African champions gifted the opening goal right before half-time and granted a second moments after the interval. From there, and despite a spirited response, Qatar never recovered.
Oh, to be in Boualem Khouki’s boots. On 41 minutes, the defender lashed at a clearance in his penalty area and fell over, inadvertently presenting the ball to Boulaye Dia. The Senegal striker, surely not believing his luck, promptly rolled home his shot. Unfortunately for Qatar, Khouki has previous.
Three minutes into the second half, their problems deepened. Famara Diedhiou got across the near post to meet Ismail Jakobs’ corner, arcing his neck to power past Meshaal Barsham in the Qatar goal.
Barsham, in for Sunday struggler Saad Al Sheeb, had had a first-half to forget as well, although he could do nothing about Senegal’s second. Qatar’s race appeared run.
Maybe, though, it should never have come to that. Not long before Senegal’s opener, Qatar thought they should have had a penalty and they have had a point.
Racing clear, Akram Afif was bundled over in the box by Ismaila Sarr, but referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz waved away his protests. The previous night, Cristiano Ronaldo had received less contact and was awarded more. Yet, here, the Video Assistant Referee wasn’t even consulted.
To their credit, Qatar pressed for a way back. The crowd, sensing their players’ predicament, reacted by urging on their side.
Almoez Ali inadvertently blocked teammate Abdelkarim Hassan’s goal-bound effort, then Hassan flashed wide a shot from range.
Ali soon forced Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to save at full stretch; the Chelsea stopper then, unbelievably, kept out Ismaal Mohammed when the Qatar defender was right on top of him.
And then, for Qatar, a first World Cup goal. Not this week, but ever. The World Cup debutants had a way back in, Mohammed latching on to Hassan’s sublime raking pass and crossing to substitute Mohammed Muntari, who thumped home his header.
The clock read 78 minutes. Qatar, the team and its people, had renewed hope. However, it did not last. Five minutes later, Iliman Ndiaye broke down Senegal’s right and squared to Bamba Dieng, who hammered home via a slight deflection. Realising there would be no way back, Qatar’s fans began to head for the exit.
Maybe they’ll be swiftly followed by their national team. A second successive defeat had the hosts’ World Cup hopes hanging by a thread.