DUBAI: Qatar will play Japan in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final after Felix Sanchez’s charges beat host nation the United Arab Emirates 4-0 in a politically-charged semi-final at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.
A stirring first-half performance – which saw Boualem Khoukhi break the deadlock and Almoez Ali notch a record-equalling eighth goal of the tournament – laid the foundation for the victory which was rubberstamped by late strikes from Hassan Al Haydos and Hamid Ismaeil as Qatar progressed with relative ease to set up Friday’s title showdown with the Japanese.
Qatar’s success saw them advance to their first-ever AFC Asian Cup final while the UAE failed to emulate their run to the final in 1996. Fans from Qatar were largely barred from the game because of the UAE’s blockade over allegations of supporting terrorism. Home fans, increasingly angry with their own players, threw their sandals and plastic bottles at celebrating Qatari players.
After a somewhat cautious opening, Qatar finally issued their statement of intent when Salem Al Hajri’s shot from distance forced UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa into a fine stop on 14 minutes.
With Abdelkarim Hassan and Assim Madibo returning from suspension, Qatar continued to look the more likely of the two sides, and they duly took the just eight minutes later.
Khoukhi’s angled drive from 18 yards somehow finding its way under Eisa’s despairing dive and into the net.
Clearly stunned by the opener, the UAE responded through an Ismail Al Hamadi header which was smartly saved by Saad Al Sheeb, and a similar effort from Ali Mabkhout that fizzed wide of the target shortly before the half-hour mark.
However, worse was to come for the Emiratis as Qatar doubled their lead in the 38th minute.
This time Akram Afif found Almoez Ali who advanced into the area before firing home via a post to equal Ali Daei’s 1996 record of eight goals at Asia’s premier event.
With Ahmed Khalil and Ismaeil Matar both introduced to the fray after the break, the UAE were quick to threaten as Al Sheeb superbly tipped over a Mabkhout piledriver and then defender Khoukhi blocked a Matar effort from close-range.
Al Sheeb was on hand once again to deny Khalil shortly after as the UAE’s search for a way back into the game became more frantic as the minutes ticked by.