DUBAI: Qatar confront favourites and four-times champions Japan in the Asian Cup Final having been cleared of a cloud of suspicion over the eligibility of two of their players writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
National team coach Felix Sanchez had said his team will not be distracted from the “most important match in the country’s football history” while aware that their hosts, the United Arab Emirates whom Qatar beat in the semi-final in front of their own angry fans, have lodged objections.
Their targets were 22-year-old Almoez Ali – who scored two of the goals in Qatar’s 4-0 win – and 21-year-old Iraqi-born defender Bassam Al Rawi. Sudan-born striker Ali scored his eighth goal of the tournament to equal the finals record set by Iran’s Ali Daei.
Subsequently the UAE launched a protest which appeared to be politically directed and has duly been thrown out by the AFC. No reason has yet been given.
Ali Almoez Ali was born in Khartoum, Sudan, and moved to Qatar as a child. He has represented the Gulf state at under-19, under-20 and under-23 level. He made his senior debut in 2016 and has scored 18 goals in 34 appearances without his eligibility being formally challenged.
Al Rawi has also played for Qatar at the same three age-group levels. His father was an Iraqi international but that did not stop the son celebrating the goal with which Qatar defeated Iraq in the Asian Cup quarter-finals.
Regulations set by world federation FIFA require that a player who switches national teams must either qualify through their parents or grandparents or have resided in a country for five years after his/her 18th birthday.
Relations between Qatar and the UAE were bitter enough already because of the political and economic boycott of Qatar imposed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and which also includes the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
Barely a handful of Qatars have been granted entry to the Emirates to watch or support their team.
Qatar’s Spanish coach Sanchez, focusing only on the final, said: “This is most important game in Qatar’s football history. The players are confident and looking forward to the game but have a lot of respect for our opponents, who have a fantastic squad and have played a great tournament.”
Hajime Moriyasu will become the first man to win the Asian Cup as both a player and a coach should his Japanese team defeat Qatar.
Moriyasu played in midfield as Japan won the country’s first title in 1992 when Takuya Takagi’s goal sealed victory in the final over Saudi Arabia. Japan have since gone on to claim the trophy in 2000, 2004 and 2011 to become the Asian Cup’s most successful nation.
The 50-year-old took over as Japan coach after their second round run at last year’s World Cup in Russia last summer.
He said: “I’m not too interested in what it means to me. I just want to celebrate the title with all the team and we will do our best in training as well.
“I can say that it’s going to be a tough match. We’ve already played six matches and we know they’re a strong opponent, so we have one more fight to do and we’re going to do it with determination so that our players can have the best performance on the field.”
Qatar have scored 16 times in their six games and have yet to concede a goal bnut Moriyasu said: “We are aware they are a strong team but no matter how they play we will stay the same.
“We are also a team that has reached the final, so I want the players to be confident because of that. We have been developing as a team throughout each game and I want us to show that development on the field.
“Over the six games, we have played against different types of opponents and sometimes we hold the ball and sometimes we have turned defence into attack. Sometimes we put teams under pressure and sometimes we spend a long time in defence and we play with persistence.”
The final will be refereed by Ravshan Irmatov, the 41-year-old from Uzbekistan, who officiated the 2011 final between Japan and Australia in Qatar.