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15 April 2024

Qatar choke in Asia Cup opener


Veteran coach Bruno Metsu has conceded that Qatar caved in to the pressure of being host nation in their opening Asian Cup game and urged his team to sort themselves out for their next game against China.

Odil Akhmedov and Server Djeparov shattered Qatari dreams with second-half goals to hand Uzbekistan a 2-0 win in their Group A encounter on Friday evening.

Central defender Akhmedov laid claim to the first strike of the tournament when he sent a looping 30-yard shot crashing off the underside of the bar and into the net in the 58th minute.

Captain Djeparov sealed the win 18 minutes later when he made the most of a sloppy back-pass by Ibrahim Majed, firing the ball past goalkeeper Qasem Burhan.

While the Khalifa Stadium was at near-capacity, the second goal sparked a mass walkout by disappointed fans, leaving it half-empty for an embarrassing end to the game.

Frenchman Metsu admitted his team's error-strewn performance was not good enough.

"It was a very bad start for our team," he said. "We wanted to play well for the people, for everybody but we played a very bad game.

"I'm sorry for the fans, for everybody, but sometimes it is very difficult to play well right from the start of a tournament, particularly with pressure on the players.

"I hope that the team will improve and I think it is very possible because there were many mistakes and the players need to give something more for the next game."

Qatar find themselves under greater scrutiny than ever before after their shock victory in the race to hold the 2022 World Cup, and with FIFA president Sepp Blatter among the spectators on Friday, the team did not cope well.

"I think the players wanted to give their best but there was a lot of pressure on them and they forgot everything," said Metsu.

"Sometimes the opening game is very difficult. It's not the first time a host team has lost their first game. They worked very hard for this game but sometimes the opposite happens and this was the case.

"It is important to protect the players. If there is one problem, one mistake, it's on me."

Qatar must now turn their attention to Wednesday's clash with China, another of the region's perennial underachievers.

Metsu knows that nothing but victory will be enough to keep alive their ambitions of reaching the knockout rounds.

"For us, this game we need to win only," he said.

"No question, no calculations, nothing. If we want to get to the second round, the only result is to win.

"We have five or six days to prepare for this game and also, I think the pressure is different for the second game for our team.

"I think it is possible. I respect China because they are also a good team but what my team showed on Friday is not us."

The football festival, featuring the region's top 16 teams, runs for three weeks up to the final on January 29.