Qatar rewrote the record books in winning the AFC Asian Cup
They won more matches at UAE 2019 than in nine previous editions combined
Strong platform for Qataris ahead of FIFA World Cup debut in 2022
Four years ago, Qatar failed to secure a single point at the AFC Asian Cup, let alone muster a win. But fast forward to the present day and the portents are suddenly hugely promising for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ hosts after their remarkable charge to continental glory.
Qatar had never won an Asian Cup knockout stage match before the tournament. Yet they won all seven of their matches in UAE 2019, having previously registered just six wins in their 39-year Asian Cup history. Add in their modest showing four years ago and a title win seemed unthinkable just a month ago.
Preconceptions, however, started to change once Qatar took the field. Al Annabi hit Korea DPR for six, and eventually won Group E with a victory over Saudi Arabia.
Then came tough knockout stage wins over 2007 winners Iraq and a star-laden Korea Republic. Their ensuing 4-0 semi-final win over United Arab Emirates was one of the most dominant showings by any team in the tournament. A sparkling 3-1 win over Japan in the decider – their third win over a Russia 2018 participant - capped a thrilling, goal-laden campaign.
Felix Sanchez’s team proved to be a revelation. Extremely well organised and pragmatic when they needed to be, Qatar also regularly showed their quality in possession.
Ball-playing midfielders and some genuine x-factor in attack consistently bore fruit. In the space of a month, new names entered Asian football fan’s lexicon, headlined by record-breaking goalscorer Almoez Ali and assist-king Akram Afif.
But this was far from an overnight success. Many of the youthful Al Annabi side are graduates of the famed Aspire Academy, having won the 2014 AFC U-19 Championship and a bronze medal at last year’s AFC U-23 Championship.
Without the benefit offered by a gruelling World Cup qualifying campaign, UAE 2019 was always going to be hugely important for the tiny Gulf nation as they prepare to welcome the world in three years’ time. Qatar will, however, feature in this year’s Copa America as invitees, along with Japan.
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 01: Maya Yoshida of Japan looks dejected as he shakes hands with players of Qatar following his sides defeat in the AFC Asian Cup final match between Japan and Qatar at Zayed Sports City Stadium on February 01, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 01: Hiroki Sakai of Japan battles for possession with Hasan Al Haydos of Qatar during the AFC Asian Cup final match between Japan and Qatar at Zayed Sports City Stadium on February 01, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Almoez Ali’s nine goals from seven matches is the most in a single tournament
Qatar had not won an Asian Cup match on foreign soil for 35 years
First Asian Cup winner that has yet to compete in a World Cup since Japan’s maiden win in 1992
Saad Al Sheeb went 609 minutes without conceding to be named goalkeeper of the tournament
First team to not concede a goal in their opening six Asian Cup games
Akram Afif provided an all-time record ten goals, created 26 goalscoring opportunities
“We made history for our country so we need to be proud of our achievement. It’s more proof that with hard work and commitment and working as a team you can reach very good results. This is one step more to continue developing the team to be ready for the Copa America and in 2022 to represent Qatar.” Coach Felix Sanchez
"I think everyone [in Qatar] had confidence in us from the start. We didn't disappoint them and we are returning to Doha with the Cup." Captain Hasan Al Haydos
“We are working on the target of the 2022 World Cup and we have started well with the Asian Cup. The Copa America is different and we will learn a lot from that. As a team from the Gulf, that will help us to have a better performance in 2022.” Striker Almoez Ali