World Cup hosts Qatar know they mustn’t let nerves get the better of them as they take on African champions Senegal, who must take something away from their second Group A encounter or face an early exit from the tournament.
The home side froze under the weight of expectations and quickly fell behind in Sunday’s opener, losing 2-0 to Ecuador and being let down by their own fans, who emptied the stadium en masse in second period.
“Our nerves betrayed us,” coach Felix Sanchez said.
“We failed to string together four passes in a row. Also, a lot of defensive gaps. The team was unbalanced and that hurt us a lot.”
A defeat at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium would see Asian champions Qatar become the second World Cup hosts not to make it past the first round, after South Africa in 2010.
Sanchez, who has had his players together almost like a club side for months in the run-up to the World Cup, has promised a more “efficient and competitive” squad, but on the evidence of their opener they will need a lot more against Africa. champions.
They can ill afford the defensive frailty and beatings of goalkeeper Saad Alsheeb that marked their World Cup debut when they entered the pitch against Senegal on Friday (12:00 Saturday AEDT).
The Africans had their own No.1 issues, slipping away a positive start as they conceded two late goals against the Netherlands in their opening group game on Monday, with World Goalkeeper of the Year Edouard Mendy partly to blame .
But while he is likely to keep his place, changes to the starting line-up will be imposed on coach Aliou Cissé after midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate and defender Abdou Diallo were forced off the pitch due to injuries at the thigh.
There is also likely to be a change up front, where Senegal could start with an additional striker in Bamba Dieng.
“Football is about efficiency – when you don’t score you can’t win,” said Cisse, who lost talisman Sadio Mane to injury before the tournament started.
Mane’s absence was particularly noticeable against the Dutch as Senegal picked up their pace and drive in attack.
“We will work on it. Losing our opening game will motivate us,” said the coach.
“Not everything we did was wrong, it’s up to us to rectify our mistakes.”
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