Naturalized players hand Qatar first Asian Cup

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Qatar’s forward Almoez Ali, right, celebrates with Qatar’s coach Felix Sanchez after winning the 2019 AFC Asian Cup final at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Friday. — AFP

ABU DHABI — Almoez Ali scored with a spectacular overhead kick for a record ninth goal of the Asian Cup to set Qatar on their way to a first continental title with a stunning 3-1 win over four-times champions Japan on Friday.

Ali’s early goal took him past Ali Daei’s 1996 tally and, combined with a 27th minute strike from Abdulaziz Hatem and a late Akram Afif penalty, helped the Qataris make an emphatic statement ahead of their hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

Sudan-born Ali’s record goal came after a protest by the host United Emirates FA into his eligibility to represent Qatar was dismissed by the Asian Football Confederation only a few hours before kickoff.

Japan finally found a way through a Qatar defense that had not conceded in six previous matches when Takumi Minamino scored in the 69th minute but the penalty condemned the Samurai Blue to their first defeat in an Asian Cup final.

Japan, chasing a record-extending fifth title, started the brighter but it was the Qataris who drew first blood through the prolific Ali, who was later named Player of the Tournament.

Afif has set up most of Ali’s goals in the UAE and he was again the provider in the 12th minute with a cross that found the striker in space with his back to goal close to the penalty spot.

There was still plenty of work to do but Ali took a touch off each foot to tee up the ball before angling it past Shuichi Gonda into the corner of the net with a bicycle kick.

The Afif-Ali combination nearly struck again a minute later but the Qataris did not have to wait long to double their lead.

Hatem, who scored the winner against South Korea in the quarterfinals, summoned up another magnificent strike, cutting in from the right before curling the ball past the helpless Gonda into the top left-hand corner. — Reuters


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