Akram Afif hands Qatar the perfect start at Asian Cup 2023

Brace from playmaker secures 3-0 win over Lebanon in Lusail

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Hosts Qatar got their title defence off to a perfect start as they won the opening game of the 2023 Asian Cup in Doha, defeating Lebanon 3-0.

Following a dazzling opening ceremony that was witnessed Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Lusail Stadium, prized playmaker Akram Afif continued the celebrations with a brace.

A classy finish either side of half-time from Afif and a header from Almoez Ali sealed a comfortable win.

Qatar had an early goal ruled out for offside. In the sixth minute, Abdulaziz Hatem sent a through ball for Ali, who evaded his marker and slotted the ball past Mehdi Khalil, only for the forward to be flagged offside.

After a period of dominance, Afif finally broke the deadlock on the stroke of halftime when he pounced on a lay-off by Ali in the box to make it 1-0.

Ali, top scorer in the 2019 edition, then doubled the lead in the 56th minute when he headed home Mohammed Waad's inviting cross from the left flank.

Lebanon had their moments but Qatar held firm.

Afif sealed victory in stoppage time when he pounced on a botched clearance and easily accelerated past a tiring Lebanon defence before applying a the finishing touch.

It was a memorable day for over 80,000 fans who had packed into the stadium.

Qatar had also beaten Lebanon in their opening game of the 2019 Asian Cup. They will face Tajikistan in their next game on Wednesday, with China the other team in Group A.

Saturday's action begins with Australia taking on India, before China play Tajikistan and Uzbekistan face Syria.

Meanwhile, Australia coach Graham Arnold urged his players to "reach for the stars" ahead of their opening game at the Asian Cup.

The Socceroos head into their opener against India in ominous form and the 2015 champions are considered among the favourites.

The squad may lack the star power of previous generations - with no member currently playing in any of Europe's top five leagues - but on Friday the longest-serving coach in the team's history called for "high expectations".

"There's only one thing to look at, one thing to believe in, and that's to win it," said Arnold, who took Australia to the last 16 of the Qatar World Cup, going out 2-1 to eventual champions Argentina.

"That's the messaging to the players and to the staff: We've come here for a reason and that reason is to win this Asian Cup.

"We've got to reach for the stars and have high expectations, and we'll do that right from the start."

Updated: January 12, 2024, 6:48 PM