Going to Arab Cup matches reveals different tactics but the passion remains
As the 90th minute of the second semi-final of the FIFA Arab Cup approaches, the score is Qatar 0, Algeria 1.
Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium is at full capacity of 42,000, with a significant portion of Algerian support in attendance, while the rest are very noisy venues. The atmosphere is electric. I know this because I sit among them.
What Happens Next ranks alongside any game I’ve ever attended up close.
Qatar camped around the Algerian penalty area, sending in center after center in an attempt to find Muntari, their big centre-forward who is brilliantly managed by opponent Tahrat, a traditional, no-frills centre-back.
The Mexican wave has already done more than a few laps and, as the clock nears the 90-minute mark, the fourth official’s board rises to signal nine minutes of extra time. There were no extended injury stoppages; instead, the referee meticulously stopped his watch when he sensed the players wasting time.
The nine-minute tip draws huge protests from the Algerian bench, shocking the players and their equally stunned supporters. Qatar are eager to get the ball back into play.
Algeria must calm down and see the game. Qatar must find a way to unlock a steadfast defense. In the seventh minute of added time, the goal comes from a superb ball coming from the right; there was a fight at the near post, two players fell and Muntari climbed the highest to head a superb header off the post.
Chaos ensues. The Qataris celebrate madly, as the Algerian players plead their case in front of the referee. The atmosphere is great as the referee presses the earphone in his right ear before starting to run halfway.
“VAR check – possible red card”, our screen informs us. You couldn’t write it. It looked like there was a foul by the Qatari striker in this brawl at the near post and a check was requested. No foul, the goal stood and again the eruption of noise from both sets of supporters – for polarized reasons – is deafening.
Game over – one minute to play.
But it took a few minutes to get the game going again. Algeria feels a huge sense of injustice, so they need convincing to report it. The game restarts with some heated challenges, but it looks like both teams are content to go to overtime.
Everyone in the stadium waits for the whistle. Waiting for the break for Algeria. They push the pitch, Yacine Brahimi hitting a through ball and penetrating into the box. Abdulaziz got caught on the wrong side, Brahimi fell, the whistle sounded. . .
The referee designates the place. Penalty for Algeria! The clock reads 90+17.
Belaili steps forward to take it. A nice save from the goalkeeper, but the rebound falls gently for Belaïli to tap with his side foot. . . goal. Algeria leads 2-1, the full house is again polarized, the mix of emotions incredible to see.
Wednesday was one of those moments that football is uniquely positioned to create. From elation to despair to elation for a team. From despair to elation to despair for the other. It had been an exciting match, tactically and technically, and brimming with passion.
He sets up what should be a thrilling final between Algeria and Tunisia on Saturday at the Al Bayt stadium.
Attending some matches of this competition, in my new role at Fifa, has been very interesting. This is the first time I’ve really seen live matches on another continent between nations that I don’t normally see.
It was interesting to see countries developing football-wise and working on modernizing their game, developing their players and their coaches, each of these countries having their own unique challenges.
As part of the new Fifa Training Center website, considerable work is being done to analyze each game technically, tactically and physically with the aim of breaking down current and future trends.
This information is posted globally on the Learning Center platform for managers and coaches to access to help develop the highest standards of the game across the globe.
It’s an incredible resource that shows what’s going on in games at the highest level, what trends are emerging in tournaments, and then breaks it down to show not only what’s going on, but how to train it.
The level of analysis used in this process is on a whole new level and will certainly bring to light aspects of the game that have never been analyzed forensically before. Like, for example, how often players offer to receive the ball and how teams break lines.
The information will improve the engagement of coaches and fans around the world. The opportunity to work at this tournament was part of the mandate of Fifa’s technical study group to see how football in this region is developing technically, physically and tactically.
There have been great games, with some incredible moments, but the passion that football inspires in everyone involved is so constant no matter where you go. Tomorrow’s final should be worth the detour.