By Armstrong Vaz
Doha, Nov 26 (IANS): The qualification race from Group A of the FIFA World Cup has narrowed down to three teams with Qatar being dumped out of the football showpiece event after just two group games.
The hosts' slim chances of making it to the next stage were eliminated on Friday after the match between The Netherlands and Ecuador, which ended in a 1-1 draw at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
The Netherlands, Ecuador and Senegal are the three teams which are in contention to qualify for the next stage from the group.
Earlier on Friday, the hosts had lost 3-1 to African Cup champions Senegal, thus suffering their second defeat.
On November 20, the opening day of the event, the hosts had lost to Ecuador 2-0 and the next day the Dutch got the better of Senegal by an identical margin.
At the end of two round of matches, The Netherlands and Ecuador both have four points and an identical goal difference. Ecuador have three points from two matches.
Ecuador and Senegal will meet in the last and concluding match of the group, with Senegal needing a win to qualify while Ecuador will need a win, while Qatar looking for their first win will meet the Netherlands.
The early exit from the championship is the earliest ever elimination for a host nation.
Qatar join 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa as the only hosts who have not managed to reach the second round of a World Cup. South Africa were at least still in the running for their third group game but Qatar now have no chance of making the last 16.
The hosts had never featured in any of the World Cup finals, having fallen to make it past through the qualification rounds. They were playing their first World Cup finals and that too on account of hosting the event.
With the World Cup hosting caught up in so many controversies off the field the merit of Qatar playing in a world Cup will be raised by its critics. But some football pundits also pointed out that nothing can be taken away from the hosts from the field, least people should not forget that Qatar won the Asian Cup defeating Japan three years back held in the UAE.
In the Netherlands-Ecuador clash, it was Cody Gakpo, who scored the fastest goal of the tournament so far to give the Dutch the lead in the sixth minute. Gakpo took advantage of Ecuador's poor defending just outside the box and netted his second goal in Qatar.
The Ecuadorians bounced back with a goal in the 49th minute with their captain Enner Valencia slotting home the loose ball after the Netherlands keeper had made a save from Estupinan's strike.
The Fenerbahce striker, who scored two goals against Qatar has so far scored three goals from two matches.
Earlier, Ecuador had the first chance to level in the 32nd, when Dutch keeper Andries Noppert made a big save to deny Valencia. Pervis Estupinan then found the net, but his effort was ruled out for offside.