By Sahan Bidappa/ Doha
Qatar were already without Bassam al-Rawi, when Abdulaziz Hatem injured his shoulder during the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup match against Yemen on Friday. Defender al-Rawi had broken his leg in Qatar’s surprising 1-2 to loss to Iraq and Hatem’s injury in the 29th minute had only worsened the mood in the hosts’ camp as the game remained in stalemate.
As Hatem was stretchered off and was replaced by Karim Boudiaf in the midfield, Abdulkarim Hassan gestured with his hands in the air, urging his teammates to lift their spirits. As it happened few seconds later, Hassan took it upon himself to bring smiles in the Qatar dugout.
With Qatar wasting many chances to score, the left-back opened Qatar’s account as he capitalised on an error from Yemen’s Nasser Ahmed and flicked the ball into the net. That was the start of the goal surge from the Asian champions as Hassan added two more goals – including a stunning strike from 30 yards – to lead Qatar to a crushing 6-0 win over a hapless Yemen.
Hassan’s starring performance not just put Qatar’s campaign back on track but he also became the first Qatari player to score a hat-trick in a Gulf Cup match. Head coach Felix Sanchez was effusive in his praise of the defender after the game, but was not surprised by the 26-year-old’s performance.
“Hassan was excellent in the game,” the Spaniard said. “It’s not the first time he has done well for us. He has always had a professional mentality and he showed that again against Yemen. He was there to help the team and we are happy with his commitment and excellence.”
Hassan, who was named the 2018 Asian player of the year, hasn’t had the greatest of times recently. He was slapped with a hefty five-month ban from all Asian Football Confederation club competitions for misconduct in Al Sadd’s 4-1 loss to Al Hilal in the AFC Champions league first leg semi-final in Doha.
Hassan was penalised for aggressively remonstrating with referee. With the suspension commencing on October 21, he will not be able to feature in AFC club competitions until March 2020, which means he will miss half of next season’s AFC Champions league group stage matches with Sadd having already qualified.
But Hassan seems to have taken that setback in his stride. A solid defender, the Al Sadd star has shown he can be a goal-scoring threat and has excelled in a winger role employed by Sanchez. Now Qatar will hope he can continue to deliver as they face the United Arab Emirates in a crucial Group B match at the Khalifa International Stadium Monday.
With al-Rawi out of the competition, Hassan will be expected to shield the defence and at the same time be a constant threat in attack. “He will be an important player for us against UAE,” Sanchez noted.
A draw would ensure a semi-final spot for Qatar, thanks to their superior goal-difference to UAE. Sanchez, calling Monday’s match a virtual quarter-final, urged his players to go all out for win and not to play or a draw. “We need all players to do well. It’s like playing the final so winning this game is the only thing on our minds right now. We want to reach the semi-finals,” the Qatar coach said.
The last time both teams faced each other was in the semi-final of the AFC Asian Cup in January, when Qatar crushed the hosts 4-0 before Sanchez’s men created history by winning their maiden continental title.
UAE, who got their campaign off to a flier with Ali Mabkhout’s hat-trick leading them to a 3-0 win of Yemen, stumbled against Iraq. Now Bert van Marwijk’s side will hope they can bounce back into form against Qatar.
Van Marwijk, who took over the UAE job after the Asian Cup, feels his team will start as the underdogs. “Qatar has players who have been playing for years with each other, and this was evident from their performance against Yemen. Our project started months ago with new players, but there have been positive developments and we know what we have to do,” the Dutchman said.
“We haven’t trained enough because there was not enough time even before the start of the tournament. Our performance in the first half against Iraq was bad, but the performance improved in the second and if we play the same pattern against Qatar we will win. Mental preparation is very important and it is the basis of a good preparation, but we are here to play well and get good results. We have to win all the games, but that is the beginning of a young team,” Van Marwijk added.
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