Hosts Qatar edge thriller against Iran to set up Asian Cup final with Jordan

Almoez Ali strikes late as defending champions seal dramatic 3-2 victory in Doha

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Almoez Ali settled a spellbinding, see-saw semi-final, and Qatar joined Jordan in the Asian Cup showpiece.

Twenty-four hours after Hussein Ammouta’s history makers churned out another chapter in their remarkable run in Doha, the hosts and holders followed suit.

On Wednesday night, at an expectant Al Thumama Stadium, Qatar went toe-to-toe with Iran. They were behind and then in front, and then pegged back again, before Ali landed the knockout blow.

Qatar survived the three-time winners, Asia’s second-ranked side, a dodgy VAR decision and even Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s shot off the upright in the 13th minute of additional time to bound through, prevailing 3-2.

By then, Iran had been reduced to 10 men, in keeping with a breathless tie. But Qatar face Jordan on Saturday, for all the marbles. However, after this, will they have anything left to give?

Iran opened the scoring on four minutes, and the tone was set. Qatar failed to deal with a long throw from the right, the ball looped up, and Sardar Azmoun contorted to direct an overhead kick past opposition goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham.

A beautiful bit of improvisation, it snapped Azmoun’s three-match drought; the longest the Roma striker had gone in the Asian Cup without scoring.

It didn’t take Qatar too long to restore parity. On 17 minutes, Akram Afif chested down from a ball over the top, turned back towards his own goal, and rolled an inviting pass to the edge of the Iran penalty area.

If Jassem Gaber did not exactly drill home the ball, he would not have cared; his scuffed shot deflected off Saeid Ezatolahi and up over Alireza Beiranvand in the Iran goal to nestle in the net.

Then, right before half-time, Qatar completed the turnaround. Ahmed Fatehi crunched into a tackle to win back possession, the ball arrived at Afif’s feet, and the pristine playmaker did the rest.

Picking up play on the left, Afif drove inside the Iran box, created a smidgen of space, and unleashed an unstoppable effort across the despairing Beiranvand.

As bedlam broke out all around him, Afif took off down the touchline and disappeared in the mob of maroon who had leapt from the Qatar bench. It marked Afif’s fifth goal this tournament, bettered only by Iraq’s Aymen Hussein, with six.

Yet, this time, Iran bounced back. Minutes into the second half, Ezatolahi cannoned a shot off Fatehi’s raised hand inside the area and, although at first the referee did not signal a penalty, he consulted VAR.

Decision reversed – still, replays showed Fatehi was harshly punished – Jahanbakhsh kept his cool from 12 yards. Irrespective of Qatar’s protests, Iran were level.

To their credit, Qatar responded immediately. Yusuf Abdurisag wrestled free and stung Beiranvand’s palms. From the resulting corner, Shojae Khalilzadeh cleared Pedro’s header from under his own crossbar.

At the other end, Qatar needed to show similar resilience. It took both Lucas Mendes and Boualem Khoukhi to prevent Taremi and Azmoun from putting Iran back in front.

Ultimately, it was the hosts who regained the initiative.

Abdulaziz Hatem’s wild shot fizzed into the path of Ali, who somehow controlled it and swept a sublime finish inside the far post.

Way off form since his goal in the tournament opener, the 2019 Golden Boot winner had risen to the occasion right when his team needed him.

Iran’s hopes were all but extinguished. Not long into an achingly-long period of injury-time, Khalilzadeh clattered into Afif and, after another trip to the pitchside screen, the official upgraded his yellow card to red.

And Qatar held on. Right at the death, Jahanbakhsh’s low shot clattered off the post, before Barsham parried a ricochet that appeared destined for the net.

The defending champions clung for now to their trophy, with only Jordan between them and the tournament’s first back-to-back title success in two decades. If the past two nights of Asian Cup action are anything to go by, Saturday should make for some viewing.

Updated: February 07, 2024, 6:04 PM