Qatar shock Japan to win Asian Cup
STUDENTS became the masters in Abu Dhabi as a clinical performance from Qatar brought a first Asian Cup triumph in a 3-1 final victory over record champions Japan.
Almoez Ali broke the deadlock with an overhead kick, his record ninth goal of the tournament, and Abdelaziz Hatim's long-range curler doubled the advantage before half-time.
Felix Sanchez's Qatar, hosts of the World Cup in 2022, lifted the trophy after conceding only Takumi Minamino's second-half strike during their campaign.
They netted a remarkable 19 times in winning all their seven matches in the United Arab Emirates.
Japan could not find an equaliser and Akram Afif's late penalty ended coach Hajime Moriyasu's bid to become the first to win the tournament as player and boss.
The defeat was Japan's first in a final after four previous victories.
Japan enjoyed slightly the better of a scrappy start but it was Qatar who went in front with their first half-chance in the 12th minute.
As so often in the tournament, Afif was the provider, delivering a cross Ali controlled, flicked up and then sent into the net via the post.
Keeper Shuichi Gonda reacted awkwardly but a possible off-side infraction against Hassan Al Haydos did not bring a glance from the video assistant referee.
Ali, 22, moved one beyond Iranian great Ali Daei's previous competition best of eight goals - scored the last time the UAE hosted in 1996.
If there was a shadow of doubt about the opener there was no question at all over Hatim's magnificent second, dispatched into the top corner from more than 20 metres out.
Japan were falling apart defensively, with a saving tackle from Maya Yoshida denying Ali, and Al Haydos hitting the post from a tight angle either side of Hatim's strike.
A theoretical danger to Qatar remains from hosts UAE, who had a protest that two Qataris - Ali and Bassam Al Rawi - were ineligible. It was thrown out by the governing AFC hours before kick-off.
The UAE could still appeal decision.
That threat, speculative as it seems, was more than Japan could muster early in the second half as despite dominating possession, it was Qatar who came closer to scoring.
Qatar defender Boualem Khoukhi was carried off with a head injury and Japan immediately gambled with their first change by removing midfielder Genki Haraguchi for forward Yoshinori Muto, who immediately headed wide.
Qatar's white-shirted wall was finally breached in the 69th minute when Tsukasa Shiotani fed Minamino to wriggle through and chip keeper Saad Al Sheeb.
But before Japan could build more sustained pressure, captain Yoshida was deemed by VAR to have handled at a corner and Afif coolly converted from the spot with seven minutes remaining.
Qatar have largely been without fans in the UAE due to an ongoing political dispute in the region, but nonetheless had thousands of backers in the Zayed Sports City Stadium.
They made plenty of noise throughout and at full-time could celebrate the sweetest of victories with the players.