Asian Cup 2023: Akram Afif leads charge as Qatar dominate team of tournament

We pick out the best XI players from this year's competition after host nation's victory

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Qatar were on Saturday night crowned Asian champions for the second successive edition following a 3-1 win in the Asian Cup final against Jordan. After 24 teams contested 51 matches and contributed 132 goals across the past month, we select our team of the rescheduled 2023 tournament.

GK: Meshaal Barsham (Qatar)

An easy decision really, given the Qatar goalkeeper was integral to his side’s second successive Asian Cup title. Conceded only five goals in seven matches this campaign, and rather remarkably saved three penalties in the quarter-final shoot-out with Uzbekistan. Known for his sublime reflexes, Barsham made couple of crucial stops in final as Jordan looked likely to turn game on its head. Rightfully named the tournament’s Golden Glove.

DEF: Lucas Mendes (Qatar)

Barsham, of course, could not do it all be himself. He was protected brilliantly by the Qatar backline, with Mendes especially a standout. The centre-back, equally comfortable in both a back four and back five, made some crucial goalline blocks – particularly in the semi-final win against Iran. Mendes’ dependability was in evidence in the showpiece also: he led the stats for clearances, with nine.

DEF: Almahdi Ali Mukhtar (Qatar)

Mendes was typically paired at the back with Ali Mukhtar, even if Qatar manager Marquez Lopez did tweak his team throughout the tournament. The experienced central defender started five of the champions’ seven matches, and his in-game know-how, and influence away from the pitch, was vital. His failure to convert in the quarter-final shoot-out against Uzbekistan shouldn’t detract from his tournament.

DEF: Yazan Al Arab (Jordan)

Jordan’s incredible Asian Cup display was built on a steely determination as well as their fantastic forward play. For that, Al Arab emerged as their key defender, robust and reliable when needed most. The centre-back even popped up with a goal: a continuous threat from set-pieces in Qatar, Al Arab netted the 95th-minute equaliser in the last-16 classic with Iraq. He almost struck again in the final, but Barsham pushed away his effort.

MID: Ahmed Fatehi (Qatar)

Although aged 31, the Qatar midfielder has never really held down a permanent position in the national team. Yet he has two Asian Cup medals in his locker; if his role in the 2019 success was diminished, then Fatehi was pivotal this past month. He started all but one of the team’s seven matches en route to the trophy, often providing security at the heart of the side.

Asian Cup champions Qatar parade trophy to delight fans

Asian Cup champions Qatar parade trophy to delight fans

MID: Alisher Shukurov (Tajikistan)

One of the stories of this Asian Cup, Tajikistan could not have made it all the way, on tournament debut, to the quarter-finals without their skilled midfielder. Shukurov may be only 21 years old, but he plays like someone of far greater vintage, controlling the team’s tempo from the centre of the park. Befitting his role and the responsibility he embraces, he stroked home the winning penalty in the last-16 shoot-out against the UAE.

MID: Akram Afif (Qatar)

It felt fitting that Qatar’s poster boy would prove to be the tournament’s best player, with Afif notching the 2023 edition’s opening goal and then all three in the final – each in the latter from the penalty spot. His trio of successes in the showpiece conveyed his courage, although his commitment was evident all across the campaign. Eight goals to land the Golden Boot, named MVP, and chipped in for four assists, too. A supreme impact.

MID: Musa Al Taamari (Jordan)

Only shaded for Player of the Tournament by Afif, the Montpellier winger’s performance in the semi-final against South Korea will forever be remembered. Al Taamari assisted his team’s first and then scored a sublime solo goal in the 2-0 triumph to send his side to a first continental final. Grew into final after quiet start, repeatedly forcing Barsham into action, and concluded tournament with three goals in all.

FOR: Oday Dabbagh (Palestine)

If Palestine deserved to be represented for an amazing show of resolve given the situation that continues to rage in their homeland, then Dabbagh embodied their spirit perfectly. The tireless frontman scored twice in the Group C decider against Hong Kong to send Palestine into the knockouts for the first time in history, then the opener in the last 16 against Qatar to give the team hope of a huge upset.

FOR: Yazan Al Naimat (Jordan)

Like Al Taamari, Al Naimat departed with reputation significantly enhanced. The forward set Jordan on their way to famous knockout victories against Iraq and South Korea, while his goal against the latter in the group threatened one of the great Asian Cup shocks. However, Al Naimat’s control and finish in the final, to drag Jordan level, was the highlight of his four goals.

FOR: Aymen Hussein (Iraq)

That Hussein finished the tournament on six goals despite Iraq exiting from the last 16 underlines just how influential he was in Qatar. The powerful Iraq striker grabbed both goals in the unbelievable group victory against pre-tournament favourites Japan, as well as a 102nd-minute winner against Vietnam. Seemed to have booked Iraq’s spot in the quarter-finals before he was controversially sent off for prolonging his celebration. Jordan then scored two in two minutes in injury-time to progress.

Updated: February 11, 2024, 12:18 PM