Qatar Beats Japan To Win Asian Cup
Qatar secured the biggest soccer prize in its history on Friday, beating the tournament favorite Japan, 3-1, in the Asian Cup final in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, an against-the-odds victory that prompted hope that the tiny Gulf nation will avoid humiliation at the World Cup it will host in three years.
By winning the title, behind two spectacular first-half goals and a late penalty, Qatar secured victory in a tournament in which it overcame difficulties linked to longstanding political tensions in the region. The host country, the United Arab Emirates, is among a group of regional rivals that have broken off diplomatic relations with Qatar and are leading a blockade that made it difficult for Qatari fans, officials and even the team itself to get to the tournament.
Qatar’s run to the final was unexpected. The national team is not considered among the region’s heavyweights, and it has never qualified for the World Cup. But it swept its rivals in the U.A.E., thanks largely to the tournament’s top scorer, Almoez Ali, whose overhead strike that opened the scoring on Friday at the Zayed Sports City stadium pushed his tournament-record tally to nine goals.
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, which was awarded after Japan defender Maya Yoshida was called for a handball after 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 Ali, a Sudan-born striker. The inquiry was prompted 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 hours before the final.
Qatar’s presence in the U.A.E. proved to be a magnet for controversy. Its players were pelted with shoes and other objects thrown from the Emirati crowd in their semifinal victory, and they endured other difficulties linked to the political dispute throughout the event.
There are no direct flights from Doha to Abu Dhabi, so the 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 was not 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 run.
Qatar’s next test will be much more difficult: In June, it will compete as a guest team in South America’s continental championship, the Copa América. Brazil, an eight-time champion, will host the event. Qatar is in a group with Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay.