- Qatar reach their first AFC Asian Cup final in style
- 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts set several records during continental campaign
- Al Annabi (The Maroons) will face four-time winners Japan in Friday’s final
Qatar have not only defied the history books in reaching their first AFC Asian Cup final, but have racked several landmark achievements in doing so.
Two goals in each half gave Qatar the most emphatic of semi-final wins over tournament hosts United Arab Emirates on Tuesday. Al Annabi (The Maroons) will now meet continental heavyweights and four-time winners Japan in Friday’s final.
The west Asian nation have ticked off several new milestones in their impressive march to the final. An extraordinary six straight wins is undoubtedly the headline statistic. It is a significant accomplishment for any nation, let alone one which has never previously won a single Asian Cup knockout match across nine previous tournaments.
Records and landmarks
Relative unknown Almoez Ali has starred with eight goals, equalling the tournament-high set by legendary Iran goalscorer Ali Daei in 1996. The 22-year-old Qatari striker netted the goal of the match on Tuesday, firing home from the edge of the penalty area with inch-perfect precision. Fellow forward Akram Hassan Afif has been an equally important cog, providing a remarkable eight assists.
But it is at the other end of the pitch where Qatar have been at their best, setting another new benchmark in reaching the final without conceding a goal. Their six-match run of defensive perfection is a new Asian Cup high.
“It [defence] is very important and one of the main keys why we are qualified for the final,” said coach Felix Sanchez. “They are very focused on the challenge and the side [defensive] situations, so I think they are working very well as a team.”
Japan will start as warm favourites, though they underestimate their in-form opponents at their peril. Qatar won their group before a victory over 2007 winners Iraq and subsequent quarter-final elimination of Korea Republic.
The Samurai Blue will also remember that they needed to rely on a last-minute winner in the pair’s most recent Asian Cup encounter eight years ago.
“We hope not to stop at the semi-finals and want to continue beyond that,” said Ali speaking before the last-four meeting with UAE. “We are one of the best four teams in Asia at this very second, (but) we respect all teams and will be ready.”
The tournament has been a crucial step for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ hosts, who will not have the benefit of playing in qualifiers ahead of the global finals. Qatar, along with Japan, are also one of two invited teams that will compete in this year's Copa America.