By MAURICIO SAVARESE AP Sports Writer
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Qatar refused to panic as it recovered from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 with Paraguay in its Copa America debut on Sunday.
The Asian champions could have done even better at the Maracana but Paraguay goalkeeper Gatito Fernandez performed outstandingly.
Qatar had a terrible start, falling behind in the first four minutes. Miguel Almiron took a free kick from the left edge of the box and Fabian Balbuena nodded the ball onto the hand of Pedro Miguel. Veteran Oscar Cardozo scored from the resulting penalty to make it 1-0 to the South Americans.
But Qatar, amid its preparations for the 2022 World Cup, held on and dominated ball possession as coach Felix Sanchez desired. At halftime, the Qataris had some 60% of possession against Paraguay, a team that has failed to qualify for the last two World Cups and is trying to rebuild.
At the beginning of the second half, Paraguay replaced Hernan Perez with Derlis Gonzalez, a change that had a quick impact. After 52 minutes, Gonzalez assisted Cardozo with a low cross, but the goal was disallowed by video review. In the 56th, Gonzalez fired in a long-range shot to the left of Qatar's Saad Alsheeb to make it 2-0.
Qatar did not feel intimidated, instead taking inspiration from the iconic 87,000-seat stadium in Rio de Janeiro which was more than half-empty.
The reward came after 68 minutes when Almoez Ali received the ball on the left edge of the box, moved toward the center and sent a powerful shot past Fernandez.
Ten minutes later, Qatar made it 2-2 after a series of passes reached Boualem Khoukhi. Fernandez almost blocked the shot.
Colombia leads Group B with three points. Qatar and Paraguay are level on one point, Argentina has zero.
Qatar next faces Colombia in Sao Paulo, and Paraguay takes on Argentina in Belo Horizonte.