FIFA Arab Cup 2021 Finals
• Sayoud stars as Algeria take the title in extra time
• Hosts keep their cool to edge Egypt on penalties for third
• A stunning climax to a historic tournament
Algeria are the first-ever FIFA Arab Cup champions after a final day light on goals but heavy on drama.
Les Fennecs needed extra time to find a way past a determined, well-organised Tunisia side, with Amir Sayoud emerging as the inaugural champions’ unexpected hero. Earlier, Qatar secured the last place on the podium thanks largely to an inspired showing from their young, second-choice keeper.
FIFA.com rounds up the action from a day of football that sparked celebrations in Doha, Algiers and far beyond.
• Tunisia 0-2 (AET) Algeria
Match for Third Place
• Egypt 0-0 (4-5 PSO) Qatar
Barsham saves the day
As well as marking the conclusion of the FIFA Arab Cup, 18 December is also Qatar’s National Day, an occasion celebrated with great enthusiasm on the streets and promenades of Doha. The hosts needed someone to ensure those festivities went with a swing, and would undoubtedly have expected either Akram Afif or Almoez Ali, their talismanic forwards, to step into that particular role. But with Afif unusually subdued, and Ali guilty of a remarkable and uncharacteristic open-goal miss in the third-place play-off against Egypt, that vacant position was filled instead by the unlikeliest candidate.
Meshaal Barsham, a 23-year-old goalkeeper who has spent the tournament warming Qatar’s bench, stepped into the spotlight and produced a wonderful performance, pulling off a string of superb, match-saving stops. Qatar would not have reached the penalty shootout without his intervention and, when they did, the young keeper emerged as the hero once again, pulling off the decisive stop to deny Mohamed Sherif and give the hosts a National Day to remember.
Fennecs find a saviour
Barsham wasn’t to be the only unlikely hero, of course. The final ended up being decided by a player who, like the Qatar keeper, has done his fair share of bench-warming over the past few weeks. Amir Sayoud hadn’t played a single minute, in fact, since starting the Algeria’s opening match against Sudan – which also happened to be his first full cap. But if the 31-year-old thought his long wait for a call-up was going to end in anti-climax and inactivity, fate – and Madjid Bougherra – had other ideas.
The Fennecs’ coach thrust Sayoud into the action midway through the second half and, with nine minutes of extra time played, his gamble paid off handsomely. The title-winning goal was a thing of real beauty, too, with the Saudi Arabia-based attacking midfielder curling an unstoppable left-foot shot into the top corner from 25 yards and etching his name forever in Algerian football folklore.
The best laid plans…
In the pre-final analysis by FIFA’s Technical Study Group, Steve McClaren went into detail on how the match would be won and lost by a Tunisia side viewed as clear underdogs. The key, essentially, was to make it a final to forget, sit deep, defend their box and avoid their defenders ending up in one-on-ones against “the best front four in the tournament”. After 90 minutes, the Eagles of Carthage could declare: job done. But there was more time to face, of course, and strategic success can always be undermined in an instant by a moment of magic. That, of course, is exactly what Sayoud provided.
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