DOHA: Initiators With a hat-trick of penalties from home hero Akram Afif, Qatar defeated surprise team Jordan 3-1 on Saturday to win the Asian Cup. It was a suitable way to round off a month of football that saw several exciting games and started with 24 teams. Additionally, it will aid in erasing memories of Qatar’s disastrous World Cup performance, in which they lost all three games—the poorest record of any host in the rivalry’s history.
Playing in their first Asian Cup final and facing their biggest game ever, Jordan was up against Australia in front of 86,492 fans at Lusail Stadium, the same venue that hosted the World Cup final 14 months prior.
They were ranked 87th in the world by FIFA, 29 places lower than their opponents, and they were behind early in the first half when striker Afif scored his sixth goal of the competition with a penalty kick.
Though Yazan Al-Naimat’s deft finish gave Jordan a thrilling comeback to tie the score, Qatar had earned their halftime advantage. But the underdogs were only tied for six minutes when Afif scored again from the penalty spot after VAR had instructed the referee to check his pitch-side monitor.
This time, a Jordan comeback was not going to happen, as Afif converted his hat-trick from the penalty spot once more in injury time, this time following another VAR intervention. When the final whistle blew, the victorious Qatari replacements hurried off the bench to launch Afif skyward.
Afif is tense.
In addition to trying to put the terrible memories of their home World Cup behind them, Qatar entered the championship game seeking to become the fifth side to win Asian crowns back-to-back. A month before the Asian Cup, Qatar took a bold risk by hiring Tintin Marquez, a Spaniard, to take Carlos Queiroz’s place as the former Real Madrid coach. The move paid off spectacularly.
His team had a stronger start to the match and had two early attempts at goal through Afif, the danger man, before Jordan’s Naimat, the center forward, stung home goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham’s hands. On minute 22, Abdallah Nasib clipped the lively Afif, who was playing off the left, in the box, giving Qatar the lead. Along with Iraq’s Aymen Hussein, Afif brushed himself down to plant his spotkick into the bottom corner, narrowly missing Yazeed Abulaila’s outstretched arms to share the competition’s top scorer title. The 27-year-old Afif performed a card trick and produced a playing card with his photo on it before the image turned to a “S” in an odd celebration.
Jordan, who advanced to the final by defeating Son Heung-min’s South Korea 2-0, had their greatest opportunity in injury time during the first half, but Mohammed Waad stopped Mousa Al-Tamari’s first-time attempt. Jordan under Hussein Ammouta was lackluster in the first half, but they turned up the heat in the second half, with Yazan Al-Arab, Tamari of Montpellier, and captain Ehsan Haddad all putting pressure on Barsham to make saves.
The goal was inevitable, and it finally came in the 67th minute when Naimat scored his fourth goal of the competition by first bringing the ball down with his right foot and then launching a half-volley with his left. But Afif and Qatar answered very quickly, and after beating Abulaila from the spot a second time, even more convincingly, he performed the card trick once more. Naturally, Afif was the one to win the third penalty kick, and he scored his eighth goal of the competition by doing it again. -AFP