Qatar crowned champions of Asia

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2019 AFC Asian Cup Final – Qatar 3 v Japan 1
Friday, 1 February 2019
Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Attendance: 36,776

Author: Mark Szczuka

Qatar lifted the 2019 Asian Cup after a 3-1 victory over Japan in Abu Dhabi on Friday. It was the first major trophy for the 2022 World Cup hosts and the perfect way for promoting football in their country as they prepare for hosting the tournament in three years.

The Arab country got off to the perfect start in the final when the tournament’s top scorer, Almoez Ali, scored a brilliant goal after just 12 minutes to take his total for the championship to nine goals in seven matches. The ball was crossed over to him at the penalty spot and he controlled the ball with his left foot, knocked the ball up with his right foot and volleyed the ball over his head into the bottom corner of the net.

Qatar extended their lead after 27 minutes through a goal from Abdelaziz Hatim, giving them a comfortable 2-0 lead going into the break at half time. Qatar conceded their very first goal of the tournament after Takumi Minamino scored in the 69th minute for Japan. It led to a nervy closing period for Qatar but they sealed victory when they restored their two goal advantage in the 83rd minute when Akram Afif converted a penalty.

It was a fantastic and unexpected win for Qatar, which would have been even more pleasing for them given the current political tensions between them and their gulf-state neighbours, including host nation UAE.

UAE along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt broke off relations with the Qataris in 2017, accusing their neighbour of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region. This led to boycotts of travel to and from Qatar, which meant the Qatari football team had to travel to UAE via Kuwait for the tournament and home via Oman.

An indication of the extent of the poor relations between UAE and Qatar was evident in the Asian Cup Semi Final a few days earlier when Qatar convincingly defeated UAE 4-0. It was too much for many UAE fans to take and they responded by throwing their shoes from the stands towards the Qatari players as they celebrated their 3rd goal. Attacking someone in the Middle East with your shoe is deemed to be the ultimate insult as it implies that the victim is lower than the dirt on the bottom of your shoe.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between Qatar and UAE develops over the next three years as there are strong rumours that FIFA will look to expand the 2022 World Cup from 32 teams to 48, and in doing so increase the possibility of moving some matches to neighbour states such as UAE. At the very least there would be a greater need for the teams and their fans to take advantage of the sizeable hotel infrastructure in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which is significantly larger than in Doha. If the blockade continues, however, then not having direct flights between Qatar and UAE in 2022 will make that a lot harder.

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