Qatar have been crowned champions of Asia for the first time after beating Japan 3-1 in Friday’s AFC Asian Cup final at the Zayed Sports City Stadium.
Almoez Ali got the Qataris off to a dream start by scoring the opener after just 12 minutes – breaking Iranian great Ali Daei’s tournament record by netting nine goals in the process – before Abdulaziz Hatem added a second in the 27th minute with a stunning long-range effort.
Japan did pull one back nine minutes after the hour mark courtesy of a clinical finish by Takumi Minamino but, with seven minutes left on the clock, Akram Afif converted from 12 yards after Qatar were questionably awarded a penalty to secure a maiden Asian Cup crown for his side.
Having never previously progressed past the quarter-finals, Qatar’s triumph will come as a huge boost especially as they are set to make their FIFA World debut as hosts in just three years’ time in 2022.
Entering the final with a sensational record of having won their previous six games – scoring 16 goals and conceding none in the process – Al-Annabi would have had reason to be optimistic in their prospects, despite coming up against a Japan side gunning for a record-extending fifth Asian Cup crown.
Just 12 minutes into the final, Qatar edged ahead courtesy of a fine effort by Almoez, who latched onto Akram’s left-wing cross and juggled the ball a couple of times before brilliantly directing an overhead kick into the far corner.
Three minutes before the half-hour mark, the Qataris doubled their lead when Abdelaziz – the goal-scoring hero in the quarter-final win over Korea Republic – produced another stunning left-footed effort from 25 yards that had Shuichi Gonda beaten all ends up as it bent inside the post.
t this stage, it looked as though Qatar were cruising but, given their status as the tournament’s record champions, the Japanese were always going to issue some sort of response.
And, in the 69th minute, the Samurai Blue duly reduced the deficit when Tsukasa Shiotani’s incisive pass was diverted by Yuya Osako into the path of Minamino, who coolly dinked a shot over Saad Al-Sheeb for his first goal of the tournament.
But, as the game entered its closing stages, Qatar were controversially awarded a penalty with just seven minutes remaining as Maya Yoshida was penalised for handball upon consultation with the Video Assistant Referee after match official Ravshan Irmatov initially allowed play to carry on.
Stepping up to the spot, Akram made no mistake in sending Gonda the wrong way to seal a monumental triumph for Qatar, one that few would argue they do not deserve following a dominant campaign that has seen them emerge as one of Asia’s most-exciting national sides.