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Qatar holds off El Salvador in thrilling Gold Cup opener at State Farm Stadium

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 7/25/2021 José M. Romero, Arizona Republic

Qatar, the invited guests from outside of North America, served notice that they are here for more than a good time. But a stirring comeback by El Salvador led by forward Joaquin Rivas almost ruined everything for the Qataris Saturday at State Farm Stadium in international soccer.

Qatar, the champion of Asia and the special guest team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, got off to a fast start against El Salvador but had to hold on for a 3-2 win in the first quarterfinal of the day. The future hosts of next year's FIFA World Cup scored twice early in the first half and advanced to next Thursday's semifinals, where a date with either the U.S. or Jamaica awaits. 

a group of young men playing a game of football: Qatar's Abdelaziz Hatim (2nd R) celebrates with teammates after scoring against El Salvador during the Concacaf Gold Cup quarter final footbal match between Qatar and El Salvador at State Farm stadium in Glendale, Arizona on July 24, 2021. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images) © FREDERIC J. BROWN, AFP via Getty Images Qatar's Abdelaziz Hatim (2nd R) celebrates with teammates after scoring against El Salvador during the Concacaf Gold Cup quarter final footbal match between Qatar and El Salvador at State Farm stadium in Glendale, Arizona on July 24, 2021. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Qatar, the winners of Group D of  the Gold Cup who scored nine goals in their first three games to lead the tournament going into Saturday, was already up by two goals well before the majority of the sellout crowd had arrived in their seats at the home of the Arizona Cardinals. 

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Almoez Ali scored the first of his two goals in the second minute, wide open for a shot after a turnover and pass to him. About six minutes later, Abdelaziz Hatimad picked out a corner of the goal and blasted a shot after a nifty dribble to create space. 

When Ali scored on a penalty kick in the 55th minute for a 3-0 lead, Qatar seemed to have El Salvador put away. But El Salvador roared back. 

"For 60 minutes, we controlled the match. The last half-hour, they were attacking all the time," Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez said. "They also wanted to get the victory."

El Salvador head coach Hugo Sanchez though the penalty call was a mistake, but said his team had no excuses.

"We got focused after that start," Sanchez said. "We didn't have the calmness we needed."

Rivas scored his first goal in the 63rd minute, giving the good-sized contingent of blue-clad Salvadoran fans something to cheer about. He made it 3-2 in the 66th minute when Qatar's defense failed to mark three players in the box. 

An offside call negated what would have been the tying goal, and El Salvador missed a couple of more chances they had before the final whistle, despite seven minutes of stoppage time.

The match was the opening act for the star attraction, Mexico against Honduras before a full house in the second quarterfinal.

Get in touch with Jose Romero at Jose.Romero@gannett.com. Find him on Twitter at @RomeroJoseM. 

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Qatar holds off El Salvador in thrilling Gold Cup opener at State Farm Stadium

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