Doha, Qatar — As Qatar prepares for a second World Cup game that must be won on home soil, fans of Al Annabi stand behind the team full of hopes and expectations.
Qatar opened the tournament on Sunday with a 2-0 loss to Ecuador. They will now face Senegal in their second Group A game on Friday.
A loss on Friday will knock Qatar out of the race for a place in the round of 16. Despite the task ahead, however, the fans have stood up for the home team.
“We don’t want to pressure them into having to win, we just want them to have a good game,” Ali Ghanem, a youth fan for the home team, told CNN Breaking News.
Qatar, one of the lowest ranked teams in the tournament, is making its World Cup debut because it is hosting.
Although Al Annabi is the reigning champion in Asia and has improved his rankings in recent years, he was unable to withstand the pressure of the tournament.
While captain Hassan Al-Haydos, Akram Afif, Saad Al-Sheeb and Almoez Ali may be household names in the Gulf State, none of them have played club soccer outside Qatar and are relatively unknown to the outside world.
According to Amine, a Tunisian fan, it made the team nervous to have the world’s eyes on her for the first time.
“It was a historic moment for them. Now that the first game is over, people in Qatar should let the team go and have fun instead of expecting them to win,” he said.
Ismaeel Mohammad, a member of the Qatari team, called on fans to stand behind the team.
“Our team needs their fans now more than ever,” he said during a press conference on the eve of the game.
Fans were duly committed and turned out to be supporting their team in Doha’s Musheireb area on Thursday evening. They went down to Al Annabi Village, a fan zone for Qatar’s supporters in Musheireb, with their maroon and white Qatar flags.
Large video screens in the fan zone showed the team’s successes in the Asian Cup and the Arab Cup, while fans sang along to popular songs.
Qatar coach Felix Sanchez admitted that his team collapsed under pressure against Ecuador.
“We hope we’re now free from all the pressure we had in the opening game,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“I hope we can keep up and show that we can be more competitive than we were the other day, regardless of the outcome.”
If Qatar doesn’t win, it will only be the second host country after South Africa (2010) to crash at the first hurdle.
The team said they would try to draw inspiration from Saudi Arabia, which defeated Argentina 2-1 in their opening game, as well as the other Arab teams that did well in the tournament.
Sonia Nemmas, a Jordanian mother of three football-crazy girls, said her family always supported Qatar and had high hopes for the team.
“If they manage to get at least one win and one draw in the remaining two games, we could still see a miracle,” she said.
Nemmas believes that Akram Afif and AbdelKarim Hassan will be the standout players for Qatar.
“Even if they manage to leave the group stage with one point, we’ll be happy.”