Abu Dhabi, The Qatari football national team were crowned Friday for the first time in their history as the champions of the AFC Asian Cup in its 17th edition hosted in the UAE, after defeating Japan 3-1 in the final.
Al Moez Ali, Abdulaziz Hatem and Akram Afif scored in the 12, 27th and 83rd minute respectively. Japan's consolation goal was scored by Takumi Minamino in the 69th minute.
Qatar became the fourth Arab team to win the competition after Kuwait (1980), Saudi Arabia (1984, 1988, 1996), and Iraq (2007). The team also virtually broke all the competition's record on their way to the title. Ali became the competition's record goal scorer, after he got nine goals this year.
Qatar had a perfect competition, winning all their matches in the first round to lead their Asian Group E with a total score of 9 points from 3 consecutive wins against Lebanon (2-0), North Korea (6-0), and Saudi Arabia (2-0).
In the knockout rounds, the team overcame Iraq's in the last 16 before eliminating South Korea in the quarter-finals with the same result. After that, a clear four-goal win over hosts UAE in the semi-final. On the other side of the final, Japan started their Asian tour with a difficult win over Turkmenistan (3-2), then edged past Oman (1-0), before winning their third group match at the expense of Uzbekistan (2-1) to top the Group F with maximum points as well. The Japanese team eliminated Saudi Arabia in the Round of 16 with a 1-0 win, the same result that beat Vietnam in the quarter-finals, before Japan three past Iran.
Qatar's best performance in the Asian Cup was twice qualifying for quarter-finals; once in 2000 in Lebanon and the second time in 2011 in Qatar.
Qatar's striker Ali proved to be the biggest phenomenon of the competition this year, after scoring a record nine goals in seven matches. What is even more surprising is that the youngster plays as a winger for Al Sadd and has scored only one goal in 13 matches in the league. Akram Afif also is a record holder, with eight assists being the highest ever number of goals created by a player in a single competition. He achieved that in just six matches. He also created a total of 20 chances, miles more than any other player in the competition.
The match started out cautiously from the two teams, but it was the Japanese team who were slightly more offensive. The Japanese team continued their attacks, but the defensive focus of the Qatari players kept the attacks at bay. They then started launching a number of counter attack with the breakthrough coming through Akram Afif, who lifted the ball to Ali, with the latter launching a stupendous scissor kick to give Qatar the lead. Just 15 minutes later, another stunning strike followed when Abdelaziz Hatim found the net from 25 yards.
The Qatari side reverted to defense mode, with the target of ending the first half 2-0. That they did.
The start of the second half saw the Japanese side come out more motivated and looking to cut back the two-goal deficit. Most of their attacks did not succeed, due to a mixture of Qatar's solid defense and Saad Al Sheeb's impressive goalkeeping skills. Eventually however, Japan managed to pull one goal back in the 69th minute to show that Japan would not lose without a fight.
The Qatari players' desire to win were a match to that of their Japanese counterpart. They got a penalty thanks to the VAR technology, which helped the referee detect a handball against the Japanese side. Akram Afif stepped up, and gave the Qatari side a two-goal safety cushion.
In addition to winning the title, the team's striker Ali became the player who scored the most goals in one competition. He broke Iranian legend Ali Daei's record of eight goals, which ironically he scored also in the 1996 edition hosted by the UAE. Ali also became the highest scoring Arab player in the history of the competition, sharing the title with UAE's Ali Mabkhot. The latter scored four goals this year, in addition to five goals he scored in 2015.
Source: Qatar Olympic Committee