By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Joao Rodriguez's well-taken first half goal ensured Qatar's long build-up to a 2022 World Cup on home soil got off to a shaky start when they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Colombia in the under-20 equivalent tournament in New Zealand on Sunday.
Rodriguez, who plays for Portugal's Vitoria Setubal, finished off a superbly timed passing move and slotted home past goalkeeper Yousuf Hassan in the 25th minute of their Group C opener at Hamilton's Waikato Stadium.
Despite picking up the pace in the second half, the loss was an early setback to Qatar's journey to the 2022 World Cup with coach Felix Sanchez stating his job was to develop a team that would provide the bulk of the squad for that tournament.
"These boys will be at a great football age in 2022, by which time they will be 25, 26, and there is a huge desire among all those who work with the team for them to be competing in their home World Cup," the Spaniard told FIFA's website.
"It is a long journey but it will be enriching for them to experience this U-20 tournament, which is the closest you can get to the World Cup itself."
The Gulf side won their first Asian under-19 title last year to qualify for this tournament and had a lengthy buildup, with camps in Austria, New Zealand and Australia over the last two months.
Sanchez also stacked his squad with Europe-based players with six of Sunday's starting side playing for Belgian second division side AS Eupen, which is owned by Qatar's ASPIRE Sports Foundation and used as a stepping stone for their young players.
In the first half on Sunday, however, they were outclassed by the South Americans, who dominated possession and territory and were too slick in their passing and movement off the ball.
Sanchez's side improved in the second half and stretched the Colombian defense but Jassim Al Jalabi and Ahmed Alsadi wasted golden opportunities to score, with Colombia keeper Alvaro Montero diving low to his left to thwart the latter.
In Dunedin, 10-man Mali beat nine-man Mexico 2-0 in a fiery Group D match that came alive in the second half.
Mali's Hamidou Maiga received his second booking in the 56th minute for a clumsy challenge before Mexico forward Diego Gama, who had come on as a second-half substitute, was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident.
Defender Oscar Bernal followed him two minutes later for his second booking, allowing Mali to capitalize with Adama Traore scoring in the 77th minute before Dieudonne Gbakale sealed the win three minutes later.
(Editing by John O'Brien)