Qatar Beats Japan to Win Asian CupFebruary 1, 2019
Qatar secured the biggest soccer prize in its history, beating tournament favorite Japan, 3-1, in the Asian Cup final, an against-the-odds victory that prompts hope that the tiny Gulf nation will avoid humiliation at the World Cup it will host in three years.
By winning the title, thanks to two spectacular first half goals and a late penalty, Qatar secured victory in a tournament in which the team overcame difficulties linked to longstanding political tensions. Host United Arab Emirates is among a group of regional rivals that have broken diplomatic relations with Qatar.
Qatar’s run to the final was unexpected. The national team isn’t considered among the region’s heavyweights and has never qualified for the World Cup. But it swept its rivals, thanks largely to the tournament top scorer, Almoez Ali, whose overhead strike to open the scoring at the Zayed Sports City stadium stretched his tally to nine goals.
Just what a way to break the record!! Almoez Ali! pic.twitter.com/XWEpmQ9rw7
Abdul Aziz Hatem gave Qatar a 2-0 first half lead with a long range strike before Japan, a four time champion that had never lost a final, threatened to rally with Takumi Minamino’s goal with 20 minutes to go. Qatar made certain of the victory with Akram Ali’s 83rd minute penalty after Japan defender Maya Yoshida was called for handball following a video review.
The buildup to the game had been overshadowed by an inquiry into allegations that Qatar’s squad included two ineligible players, including Sudan-born star striker Ali. The inquiry was sparked by a complaint by the United Arab Emirates, which was humiliated, 4-0, in front its own fans by Qatar in Tuesday’s semifinal.
The Asian Football Confederation cleared Qatar just hours before the final kicked off.
Qatar’s presence in the U.A.E proved to be a magnet for controversy. Its players were pelted with shoes and other footwear thrown from the crowd in the semifinal and endured other difficulties linked to the political dispute from start to finish.
There are no direct flights from Doha to Abu Dhabi, so its team had to fly through Oman on its way to the event, and Qatari fans — unable to travel to the Emirates without permission — were largely absent at the team’s matches.
Qatar wasn’t, though, without support. A small group of lively fans led by a contingent of Omanis cheered for the team, joining a Korean woman dressed in a silk dress in the colors of Qatar’s flag, who had followed the team through its seven-match winning run.
Qatar now heads as a guest team to South America’s biggest national team tournament, the Copa América, in June. That event will be the last major test for Qatar’s young team, which has been developed at great cost.
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