Jordan v Qatar: Akram Afif's hat-trick of penalties fires hosts to Asian Cup glory

Defending champions retain their continental crown after 3-1 victory at Lusail Stadium

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Akram Afif swept home a hat-trick of penalties, the tournament’s standout performer delivering on the grandest of stages, and Qatar were back-to-back Asian champions.

Hosts of the postponed 2023 tournament, the holders will keep the continent’s premier prize for another few years yet, Afif and Co seeing off a spirited Jordan 3-1 at a lively Lusail Stadium on Saturday night.

Despite the defeat, Jordan depart Doha with heads held high.

Never beyond the Asian Cup’s quarter-finals, they can look to foundations laid for future success.

But it was Qatar’s night at the same glittering venue that crowned Argentina as World Cup winners 14 months ago. Back then, the final also included three penalties before the game was decided in the shootout.

Unlike the global finals, this proved to be Qatar’s tournament on the pitch, too. Asian champions in the UAE five years ago, they are the continent’s top team once more, becoming the first to retain the trophy since Japan two decades ago. Only Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran have won more.

Qatar’s successful defence was dependent on Afif, his influence carrying “Tintin” Marquez Lopez’s side through the campaign. Asian Player of the Year in 2019, Afif concluded the latest edition as its top scorer and Most Valuable Player, also. It was a decisive display this past month, all right.

It had to be on Saturday. Jordan, conquerors of South Korea earlier this week, were always going to be formidable opponents; their performances this past month have been built on grit but they are a significantly gifted team, also. Seeking to make yet more history, they coloured proceedings throughout.

And they more than played their part in a pulsating finale. After on-pitch singers led supporters in belting out the respective national anthems, a breathless first half unfolded. Afif had two sights of goal in the opening eight minutes alone.

Jordan, perhaps bowed initially by the occasion, did not test Meshaal Barsham in the Qatar goal until the 16th minute.

While lead light Musa Al Taamari, the star of the semi-final victory against South Korea, was struggling to influence proceedings, Afif was instrumental. He chased down loose balls, thrust himself into challenges. Each endeavour elicited a deafening surge from the crowd.

On 22 minutes, he provided them his major moment. Having got the wrong side of Jordan full-back Abdallah Nasib, Afif was clattered by his panicked marker, and a penalty was awarded.

Al Haydos lifted the ball and thus looked set to take the spot-kick, only to then hand it over to Afif.

The Al Sadd star seemed to exert minimal effort, rolling his shot into the bottom corner. Afif, for some time the national team’s magician, produced a playing card from sock, which flipped to reveal an “S” – the initial, apparently, of his wife.

Indeed, Afif and the Asian Cup have proved perfect partners. The penalty hoisted him to 20 goal contributions in the past two tournaments, 10 in each. It represents a remarkable return.

To their credit, Jordan awoke, finally, late in the half, Al Taamari missed two more-than-decent chances.

Jordan emerged from the break inspired, Al Taamari forcing a succession of saves from Barsham, while the goalkeeper palmed away Yazan Al Arab’s downward header.

He could do nothing, though, about Yazan Al Naimat’s equaliser. The Jordan striker, back from suspension, controlled a deep cross expertly, swivelled, and thrashed his shot beyond Barsham. Jordan were back in it – it was not less than they deserved.

But the contest turned on two more penalties. VAR intervened in both, first to show that Jordan midfielder Mahmoud Al Mardi tripped Ismaeel Mohammad on 70 minutes, and then at the beginning of injury-time, when goalkeeper Yazeed Abulaila bundled over Afif.

Both times, 2019 Golden Boot Almoez Ali grabbed the ball initially before handing spot-kick duties to Afif. It was a shrewd move.

Afif dispatched both, one in either corner, and his celebration got a repeat run-out. Just like Qatar: repeat Asian champions, this time anointed the continent’s best on home soil.

After their victory, President Sheikh Mohamed congratulated Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, on the result.

The UAE leader posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Sincere congratulations to my brother @TamimBinHamad and the Qatari people on Qatar's victory in the AFC Asian Cup in Doha and successful organisation of the tournament. I commend Jordan for an excellent performance and congratulate all participants for demonstrating the power of sport to build bridges of co-operation and friendship among countries and peoples.”

Asian Cup champions Qatar parade trophy to delight fans

Asian Cup champions Qatar parade trophy to delight fans
Updated: February 11, 2024, 9:14 AM