Qatar won the Asian Cup for the first time after defeating Japan 3-1 in Friday’s final in Abu Dhabi.
The Gulf side, making a first appearance in the continental showpiece, sealed the trophy at Zayed Sports City Stadium through goals from Almoez Ali, Abdulaziz Hatem and Akram Afif.
Takumi Minamino scored for Japan midway through the second half. Seeking a fifth Asian title, the four-time champions had never before lost the final.
Qatar took the lead on 12 minutes when Ali received Afif’s chipped pass with his back to goal, took two touches and guided an overhead kick in off the Japan upright. It was the striker’s ninth goal of the month, setting a new Asian Cup record for a single tournament.
Fifteen minutes later, Qatar had doubled their advantage. Afif laid the ball to Hatem who, 25 yards from goal, curled his shot past Shuichi Gonda and high into Japan’s top corner. It was Afif’s 10th assist of the tournament.
On 56 minutes, Afif nearly supplied another, but Hatem pushed the winger’s pass over the crossbar. Three minutes later, Qatar lost defender Boualem Khoukhi following a clash of heads in their penalty area.
Now dominant in possession, Japan should have found a way back into the game almost immediately. However, substitute Yoshinori Muto failed to hit the target with a header when well placed.
Japan’s pressure was rewarded, though, in the 69th minute. Al Ain’s Tsukasa Shiotani found Yuya Osaka with a pass, whose lay-off put in Minamino. The Red Bull Salzburg striker coolly dinked the ball over the onrushing Saad Al Sheeb to give Japan a lifeline. It marked the first goal Qatar had conceded in the tournament.
With eight minutes remaining, Qatar made the victory safe. Japan captain Maya Yoshida was adjudged to have blocked with his hand Abdelaziz Karim’s header from a corner – the Video Assistant Referee was consulted – leaving Afif to slot home from the penalty spot. Yoshida's miserable night was secured when he then headed over the Qatar goal from inside the six-yard box.
The build-up to the match had been dominated by issues surrounding the eligibility of Ali and Qatar defender Bassam Al Rawi. Not long before the final, the Asian Football Confederation released a statement saying they had dismissed a protest by the UAE Football Association following Tuesday’s semi-final between the two teams.