After draining loss to US, Iran coach Queiroz snaps at volunteer

DOHA: After an emotionally-draining game against the United States — the most eagerly-awaited game of this World Cup in Qatar, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz decided he would be the one speaking to reporters who’d seen players from Team Melli walk past and into their team bus without taking any questions.

Queiroz had already been at a news conference in the adjoining room, giving detailed answers to every question put to him, attempting to explain Iran’s 1-0 defeat to the United States in a politically-charged Group ‘B’ game that knocked them out of the World Cup.

Iran players rushed through the mixed zone, Mehdi Taremi — their star striker — grimacing as he refused to speak. It had been an engrossing 90-minute battle out on the pitch at the Al Thumama Stadium, Iran having headed into the game in a better position than the US to advance to the last 16 for the first time in their history.

After a game where tension was overwhelming, nerves were frayed, Queiroz lost his temper after seeing a volunteer sharing a joke with another of his colleagues. Queiroz felt it was a joke at his expense and reacted, shouting an expletive and asking the Iran press officer to take down the volunteer’s name so they could file an official complaint against him.

“In the second half, we deserved to score,” Queiroz said, as he rued the fact that his side couldn’t make most of the chances they got after falling behind to Christian Pulisic’s 38th-minute goal.

Iran were playing in Qatar under the shadow of widespread protests by women’s rights activists back home following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police detention for not following the dress code in the country. Since then, 400 people have reportedly died in the government’s crackdown against the protestors.

At the World Cup, they have been under intense scrutiny, Queiroz having stressed that politics should be kept out of sport and following his altercation with the volunteer, he stressed the need to “cool down”.

“We need to cool down now, make an analysis,” he said, when asked about his future with the AFC Asian Cup coming next year. “The players are disappointed, they did a fantastic job under extremely difficult conditions and I think they deserve the credit and respect.”

While it’s the end of the road for Iran, the American journey continues. They’ve qualified for the round of 16 at every World Cup they’ve participated in since 2010. Now, they face the Netherlands for a spot in the quarter-finals.

“There were a lot of smiling faces in the dressing room but we know we have a job to do in the next game to reach the quarter-finals,” Josh Sargent told reporters.

The American players walked through the mixed zone without much revelry but the real party came at the team hotel. Social media videos showed loud celebrations after their win against a country with which they haven’t had diplomatic relations since 1980.

US captain Tyler Adams, who had survived a grilling at the pre-match press conference by Iranian reporters a day earlier, hailed his side’s spirit in overcoming intense pressure from Iran in the second half.

“Tonight was one of those nights where you knew you could look to your left and look to your right and there was someone battling for you,” he told reporters.

It was that kind of a game, it was a battle; the Al Thumama an amphitheatre for this gladiatorial contest. At the end of it all, it was the Americans who were still alive.—By Umaid Wasim

Enner Valencia makes tearful apology to Ecuador

DOHA: Ecuador’s veteran captain Enner Valencia could not control his tears as he apologised to his country for the side’s failure to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup in Qatar.

But Valencia, whose team came agonisingly close to reaching the last 16 and matching Ecuador’s previous best showing in 2006, was quickly consoled by fans who hailed “La Tri” (The Tricolour) for inspiring them with excellent performances.

“We offer an apology to all of Ecuador,” Valencia said, crying in the aftermath of Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to African champions Senegal which stopped them from progressing.

“We didn’t expect this, we were very happy with what we were doing ... Unfortunately we could not meet Ecuador’s expectations,” he added.

The 33-year-old remains a hero at home, however.

Ecuador’s all-time top scorer bagged three goals in a 2-0 opening win over Qatar and a 1-1 draw against Netherlands when they deserved to win and secure passage to the knockout stage.

A draw would have done against Senegal, but Ecuador paid for two lapses in concentration to give away a penalty and then a second goal straight after the euphoria of pulling back to 1-1.

“Unfortunately that’s football, it bites you,” said defender Angel Preciado. “We’re so sorry not to go through and we thank our nation for their wholehearted support.”

Ecuador’s fans were sad but also proud that their 44th-ranked team had done so creditably.

“They gave their all and couldn’t win in the end, but they showed that they can match bigger teams,” said Margarita Vidal, 36, in a park in the coastal city of Guayaquil.

“Ecuador is spoken of and known in many nations, that is an achievement no-one can take away from us.”—Reuters

England’s Foden gives Southgate nice dilemma

DOHA: The public clamour for Phil Foden’s inclusion in England’s starting line-up for Tuesday’s clash against Wales had become so intense that there was a danger it could end in anti-climax.

Yet, handed his chance by Gareth Southgate, the 21-year-old Manchester City forward grabbed it in style, scoring England’s second goal in a 3-0 win that sent England into the last 16.

In a squad packed with young attacking potential, Foden is perhaps the most gifted with an ability to conjure moments of magic in and around the opponents’ penalty area in a similar fashion to former England maverick Paul Gascoigne.

He had gone 16 games without scoring for England, however, and the fact he did not start England’s opening two games in Qatar suggested head coach Southgate still regards him more as an impact substitute.

Southgate is fiercely loyal to Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka, both of whom were benched on Tuesday, but Foden’s versatile display against Wales, in which he switched from the right to the left flank to great effect after halftime, gives the manager a nice problem to think about in coming games.

Foden, like Jack Grealish, offers England some wizardry that could make the difference in the tension of knockout football.—Reuters

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2022

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