Asian Cup 2019: Japan 1 Qatar 3

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Qatar claimed a first-ever Asian Cup thanks to a 3-1 victory against record four-time champions Japan in Friday’s final.

The Maroons, who made their debut in the tournament’s showpiece, soaked up early pressure and pounced through striker Almoez Ali’s 12th-minute overhead kick. His ninth strike in the UAE saw him move ahead of Iran icon Ali Daei as the competition’s highest scorer at a single running.

Another fine goal followed on 27 minutes at a near-full Zayed Sports City when midfielder Abdulaziz Hatem curled in from 25 yards. This represented a second assist of the night for forward Akram Afif and a, remarkable, 10th of the 2019 edition.

The World Cup regulars of Japan, belatedly, stirred into life after the interval and earned a lifeline through attacker Takumi Minamino’s well-worked chipped finish that ended Qatar’s run of clean sheets in the competition. But the half’s other goal would come for the Maroons, the outstanding Afif calmly converting an 83rd-minute penalty-kick once Yoshida’s handball from 2018 AFC Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan’s header was retrospectively punished by the video-assistant referee.

Unsurprisingly, changes were at a premium in the capital. Al Ain’s Tsukasa Shiotani came in for Sint-Truiden’s Wataru Endo in defensive midfield for Samurai Blue, while Al Duhail centre-back Bassam Al Rawi was back from suspension for Qatar and Al Gharafa’s Hatem was productively recalled.

A cagey contest had been expected between the combatants in front of more than 36,000 spectators, with Japan cast as slight favourites.

But watched on by dignitaries that included FIFA president Gianni Infantino, AFC president Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, Real Madrid legend Luis Figo plus Manchester United and South Korea hero Park Ji-sung, Qatar would race into a 2-0 lead before the half-hour mark.

Villarreall-owned Afif punted a ball into the centre. Al Duhail’s Ali, under pressure from Southampton defender Maya Yoshida, took two deft touches and then athletically produced an overhead kick without the ball hitting the ground.

Yoshida would block a dangerous Ali shot almost from the restart. But Qatar would go further ahead soon after.

Hatem received possession under no pressure, looked up and stroked the ball home with his left foot. The post soon came between sliding skipper Hassan Al Haydos and a 3-0 advantage.

Samurai Blue boss Hajime Moriyasu, renowned for his conservative outlook, needed to inspire a remarkable turnaround in his nation’s fifth showpiece appearance in the last nine runnings.

Hatem, however, would volley the second half’s first chance wildly over in the 56th minute.

At the other end, substitute Yoshinori Muto would head off target within a minute of coming on just after the hour mark.

A way back into the contest would come in the 69th minute. Shiotani fed the ball into Werder Bremen forward Yuya Osaka, whose lay off played Red Bull Salzburg’s Minamino into a one-on-one he cutely dispatched with a dink over Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.

The expected cavalry charge from Samurai Blue, however, did not take place. Qatar, like they’d done all tournament, were happy to sit deep and strike on the break.

A foray up the pitch won a corner in the 80th minute. Hassan’s header struck Yoshida’s outstretched arm, with Afif doing the honours from 12 yards after VAR’s intervention.

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