Boualem Khoukhi scored 13 minutes from time as Asian champions Qatar hit back from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw with Paraguay at the Copa America on Sunday. An Oscar Cardozo penalty and a stunning Derlis Gonzalez strike gave the South Americans a 2-0 lead in Rio de Janeiro but goals from Almoez Ali and Khoukhi in the final quarter snatched a share of the Group B spoils for the tournament debutants.
“It’s a fair result, we deserved the point we gained,” said Qatar’s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez. He praised his players for “keeping the faith” and “showing the desire to go after the game, that was the most positive thing for us.” It left the sides two points behind Group B leaders Colombia, who opened their account with a 2-0 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Saturday.
“We were unable to manage our advantage and we leave with a bitter taste,” admitted Gonzalez. Tournament invitees Qatar made a disastrous start with a defensive mix up in the first minute causing panic in their own area. The Asian champions survived but Paraguay kept the pressure on and a couple of minutes later had won a penalty for handball after a Bruno Valdez header struck Portuguese-born full-back Pedro Miguel’s arm.
Cardozo hammered the resulting spot kick straight down the middle of the goal to give Paraguay a fourth-minute lead. Qatar should have equalized on 16 minutes but incredibly two players missed an open goal. Left-back Hassan Abdelkarim flashed an inviting center across the six yard box where Sudanese-born Ali and Hasan Khalid Al Haydos both somehow contrived to completely miss the ball from just a couple of yards out.
Qatar, the next World Cup hosts in 2022, were neat and tidy in possession but initially lacked the cutting edge and ruthlessness that Paraguay showed. The South Americans threatened to double their lead but Fabian Balbuena headed over and Hernan Perez forced a smart save from goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb.
Qatar had another great chance to equalize after Al Haydas’s beautiful chipped pass found Abdulaziz Hatem six yards out at an angle, but he blasted a volley straight into goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez’s chest.
Paraguay looked to have doubled their lead on 51 minutes when Cardozo turned home a Miguel Almiron cross, but VAR adjudged Gonzalez to have been offside in the build-up.
Five minutes later, though, Gonzalez himself scored the second with a screamer from 25 yards into the top corner.
Qatar were back in it halfway through the second period with a special strike of their own as Ali’s shot from the corner of the 18-yard box took a nick off a defender’s foot and arched over Fernandez into the top corner, drawing cheers from the sparse crowd inside the Maracana stadium.
And the Asian champions were level 13 minutes from time after opening up the Paraguay defense with a slick passing move. Akram Afif slipped in Algerian-born Khoukhi, running in at an angle between full-back and center-back.
His finish hit Fernandez’s knee and ballooned up into the air where the back tracking Rodrigo Rojas attempted to head it off the line but succeeded only in putting the ball into the roof of the net and then injured himself falling into the goal. “We need to take a look at our midfield play,” Paraguay coach Eduardo Berizzo said. “We were up against very good opponents, we knew what were up against.