RIO DE JANEIRO – The Qatari national soccer team, headed by Spain’s Felix Sanchez, secured an unexpected 2-2 draw against Paraguay, fighting back from a two-goal deficit and notching their first ranking point ever in Copa America action on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.
The Paraguayan squad coached by Eduardo Berizzo – who made his official debut at the helm of the Albirroja, as the Paraguayan team is known – got on the board first just four minutes into play on a arrow-straight and powerful penalty kick by striker Oscar “Tacuara” Cardozo after Qatar’s Portuguese-born Pedro Miguel blocked a header by Bruno Valdez with his arm.
As first half play unfolded, Qatar had an excellent chance to draw even in the 16th minute but Hassan Al Haydos was unable to sink a cross from Abdelkarim Hassan and right at the halftime whistle Almoez Ali had a good chance blocked by goaltender Roberto Fernandez.
Nevertheless, throughout the match, the Qataris showed good organization and good possession skills but – at first – were unable to display the drive and aggression that the Paraguayans brought to the pitch.
Minutes after play resumed, Paraguay probed and then drove only to see Cardozo’s second goal ruled invalid using the VAR.
But the South Americans widened their lead on a powerful curling blast by Derlis Gonzalez in the 56th minute that got by goaltender Saad Al Sheeb.
It looked like a steep mountain to climb – perhaps too steep – for the Qataris, invited guests at the Copa America but who took home the trophy in their debut outing at the Asian Cup earlier this year.
But the Middle Eastern team mounted an incredible comeback and brought themselves even with their Group B rivals on an initial goal by Almoez Ali, the team’s top scorer in the Asian Cup with nine tallies, who curled in a nicely executed shot in the 68th minute from 20 meters.
Then, it was Boualem Khoukhi’s turn to drive for a second score, managing to fire a shot-on-goal that hit Fernandez on the knee, arching up into the air only to be semi-intercepted by defender Rodrigo Rojas, who tried to knock it clear on a header but instead wound up popping it into the top of his own net, managing to get himself tangled in the twine and apparently injuring his shoulder.
Colombia leads Group B with three points after the first day of Copa America play, having downed Argentina on late goals by Roger Martinez, in the 70th minute, and Duvan Zapata in the 86th minute. As a result, Argentina is bringing up the rear of the group with zero points, while the Paraguayans and Qataris stand with one point apiece.
The second day of play for Group B is scheduled for June 19, with Colombia facing off against Qatar and Argentina going up against Paraguay.