Saturday 18 December 2021, 21:30

Unlikely heroes grab gold for Algeria, bronze for Qatar

  • Sayoud stars as Algeria take the title in extra time

  • Hosts keep their cool to edge Egypt on penalties for third

  • A stunning climax to a historic tournament

Algeria are the first-ever FIFA Arab Cup champions after a final day light on goals but heavy on drama. Les Fennecs needed extra time to find a way past a determined, well-organised Tunisia side, with Amir Sayoud emerging as the inaugural champions’ unexpected hero. Earlier, Qatar secured the last place on the podium thanks largely to an inspired showing from their young, second-choice keeper. rounds up the action from a day of football that sparked celebrations in Doha, Algiers and far beyond.



Match for Third Place

The moments

Barsham saves the day As well as marking the conclusion of the FIFA Arab Cup, 18 December is also Qatar’s National Day, an occasion celebrated with great enthusiasm on the streets and promenades of Doha. The hosts needed someone to ensure those festivities went with a swing, and would undoubtedly have expected either Akram Afif or Almoez Ali, their talismanic forwards, to step into that particular role. But with Afif unusually subdued, and Ali guilty of a remarkable and uncharacteristic open-goal miss in the third-place play-off against Egypt, that vacant position was filled instead by the unlikeliest candidate.

Meshaal Barsham, a 23-year-old goalkeeper who has spent the tournament warming Qatar’s bench, stepped into the spotlight and produced a wonderful performance, pulling off a string of superb, match-saving stops. Qatar would not have reached the penalty shootout without his intervention and, when they did, the young keeper emerged as the hero once again, pulling off the decisive stop to deny Mohamed Sherif and give the hosts a National Day to remember.

Fennecs find a saviour Barsham wasn’t to be the only unlikely hero, of course. The final ended up being decided by a player who, like the Qatar keeper, has done his fair share of bench-warming over the past few weeks. Amir Sayoud hadn’t played a single minute, in fact, since starting the Algeria’s opening match against Sudan – which also happened to be his first full cap. But if the 31-year-old thought his long wait for a call-up was going to end in anti-climax and inactivity, fate – and Madjid Bougherra – had other ideas.

The Fennecs’ coach thrust Sayoud into the action midway through the second half and, with nine minutes of extra time played, his gamble paid off handsomely. The title-winning goal was a thing of real beauty, too, with the Saudi Arabia-based attacking midfielder curling an unstoppable left-foot shot into the top corner from 25 yards and etching his name forever in Algerian football folklore.

The best laid plans… In the pre-final analysis by FIFA’s Technical Study Group, Steve McClaren went into detail on how the match would be won and lost by a Tunisia side viewed as clear underdogs. The key, essentially, was to make it a final to forget, sit deep, defend their box and avoid their defenders ending up in one-on-ones against “the best front four in the tournament”. After 90 minutes, the Eagles of Carthage could declare: job done. But there was more time to face, of course, and strategic success can always be undermined in an instant by a moment of magic. That, of course, is exactly what Sayoud provided.

Misses and a late hit As well as unlikely heroes, the final day yielded some of the tournament’s most unexpected misses. Almoez Ali started the ball rolling by volleying over from a yard out before Algeria’s Tayeb Meziani, just as inexplicably, missed the target with a first-half opportunity that seemed far easier to convert. Even tournament top scorer Seifeddine Jaziri had left his shooting boots at home, slicing wide a late, gilt-edged opportunity that might have won the title for Tunisia. But there was one chance that, even today, could not be passed up. It came in the 125th minute, no less, when – with Tunisia’s entire team, goalkeeper included, stranded at an attacking corner – Yacine Brahimi was able to race through unopposed to slot home the easiest goal of his career.

The stat

1 – Before today, 30 games at the FIFA Arab Cup had produced just a single goalless draw. For 219 minutes, it looked we were heading for two of them in a single day. Algeria, however, maintained their remarkable record of having opening the scoring in each of their last 12 international matches and, in doing so, became this tournament’s first-ever champions.

The quote

“Today is an important day for this country and I think we made people happy with what we did out there. We are happy with the outcome of this tournament. I’m proud of my players and we enjoyed playing in an excellent stadium today, like all the facilities here. I think it’s clear that Qatar has shown everyone that it is very well prepared to host a World Cup.” Felix Sanchez, Qatar coach

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