Qatar stun Japan to lift maiden Asian Cup title

The Maroons beat four-time champions Japan 3-1 to clinch their first Asian Cup football tournament.

    Qatar have stunned four-time champions Japan 3-1 in the final of the AFC Asian Cup held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to lift their maiden title at the continental tournament. 

    Striker Almoez Ali opened the scoring for the Maroons on Friday in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi, with a  spectacular overhead kick – his record ninth goal of the tournament.

    Ali’s 12th-minute strike took him past Ali Daei’s 1996 tally, and combined with a 27th-minute strike from Abdulaziz Hatem and a late Akram Afif penalty, helped the Qataris make an emphatic statement ahead of their hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

    The Sudan-born 22-year-old Ali’s record goal came after a complaint by the host UAE Football Association about his eligibility to represent Qatar was dismissed by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) only a few hours before kickoff.

    Qatar’s road to the final had not been without controversy.

    Hosts UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt severed all diplomatic and economic ties with Doha, imposing a land, sea and air blockade on the Gulf nation in June 2017.

    The Maroons had to take a circuitous route via Kuwait to get to the tournament, an air journey that took more than five hours when a direct flight would take under an hour.

    Playing against the backdrop of that regional political dispute and without any fans in the stands, Qatar beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 in a group match and then thrashed UAE 4-0 in a semi-final that saw shoes and bottles hurled at Qatari players.

    Al Jazeera’s Andy Richardson, reporting from Aspire Park in Qatar’s capital, Doha, said: “Coming into this tournament they were ranked outside of the top 10 in Asia, down at 93 in the world rankings – not much expected of them. But if you looked a little bit deeper there were signs this was a team on the rise.”

    Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, becoming the first Arab country to do so. 

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