By Shady Amir
DOHA - The muffled anger from the fans was evident outside Al Thumama Stadium after Qatar's 3-1 loss to Senegal on Friday and hours later they were out of the World Cup to become the second host country to suffer that fate after South Africa in 2010.
Qatar has prepared for the finals since getting the hosting rights in 2010 by spending a reported $200 billion to put on a "gathering for all mankind", as the title of the opening ceremony said, but it was all over for the team in 180 minutes.
"This whole team should be changed," a Qatar fan told outside Al Thumama stadium, without revealing her name.
In the tournament's opening match, the 2019 Asian Cup winners did not live up to expectations and conceded twice in the first half to lose 2-0 against Ecuador after a disappointing and shaky performance, with lots of fans leaving before the end.
The team may have paid the price for the Qatar FA's decision not to allow national team players to feature for their clubs in the local league this season and to devote themselves solely to preparations for the big event.
At times, fatigue and nerves were evident in Qatar's performances, as in the first minutes of the opening match when goalkeeper Saad AlSheeb would have cost his team an early goal had it not been for the intervention of VAR.
Qatar did not have a shot on target against Ecuador and that continued in the first half against African champions Senegal.
Some fans expected coach Felix Sanchez to make changes in the second half against Ecuador to help his team get back into the match but he only switched two players midway through the half and a couple near the end when it was too late.
Sanchez said after the Ecuador match that nerves had got the better of his team and that games at the World Cup were completely different to any other matches, whether friendlies or official ones such as the Asian Cup final.
On the eve of the crucial Senegal game, Sanchez said the team had prepared psychologically for the possibility of an early exit from the tournament.
"We are a small country, the smallest to host the World Cup, and we are aware of the fact that we may be knocked out early, but that doesn't mean the end of the football project," he said.
"I am confident that Qatar will continue their project to maintain a strong team, compete and qualify for the upcoming tournaments," he added.
Against Senegal, Sanchez made three changes to the starting lineup, including bringing in goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham.
Once again, individual errors shattered Qatar's hopes when defender Boualem Khoukhi's fluffed effort to clear the ball allowed Boulaye Dia to pounce and the striker rattled the ball into the net at the near post to give Senegal a halftime lead.
What Sanchez warned about before the match regarding a lack of concentration happened when Senegal's Famara Diedhou netted with a glancing header from a corner just after the break.
Qatar at least got on the scoresheet in the 78th minute when substitute Mohammed Muntari fired home his country's first ever goal at a World Cup on their debut in the tournament.
But six minutes later Senegal's Bamba Dieng swept home a pass from fellow substitute Iliman Ndiaye for the African side's third goal, consigning Qatar to the bottom of Group A.
When the Netherlands later drew 1-1 with Ecuador, it was the end of Qatar's hopes in the World Cup. They have one match remaining against the Dutch on Tuesday.
Qatar will seek to defend the Asian Cup when they stage the finals, although no date has been set for that tournament yet after China withdrew as hosts due to the COVID situation.
The question remains though as to whether it's the end of the Qatari football project or just the start.
(Reporting by Shady Amir; Editing by Ken Ferris)