Qatar open Asian Cup with stylish 3-0 win over Lebanon

By Samindra Kunti in Doha

January 12 – Hosts Qatar kicked off their own party at the Asian Cup with a 3-0 victory over Lebanon with goalscorers Akram Afif and Almoez Ali once again proving their value to the defending champions.  

With the opening ceremony and fireworks out of the way at Lusail Stadium and the Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani as well as FIFA president Gianni Infantino in their seats, football took centre stage at the continental finals, shining the spotlight once more on the host nation.

The Maroons played front-foot football, dominating possession and within five minutes Almoez Ali had the ball in the back of the net, but the attacker was in an offside position, prompting the semi-automated offside technology to spring into action.

The hosts took encouragement, with Akram Afif drifting in from the left and Ali leading the line, but for all their dominance they struggled to test Lebanese goalkeeper Mostafa Matar. The visitors kept the defending champions on their toes with attempts from Hassan Maatouk and Hussein Al Zein at the other end.

Afif dropped deeper to control the game and unpick the defense and at the half-hour mark, he almost opened the score, but his looping header flicked off the top of the bar. The match had settled into a pattern: Qatar was on the ball, pressing Lebanon back. Miodrag Radulovic’s Lebanese team soaked up the Qatari pressure and did well to close down the space.

But all the hard work counted for little at the end of the half when the Lebanese midfield failed to track Afif, whose side-footed finish showed great control and composure to pick the bottom-right corner, break the deadlock and score the first goal of the tournament, much to the relief of the sizable and partisan crowd at Lusail Stadium. It was a well-deserved lead after a well-worked move. Afif’s celebration matched his cool finish.

With Qatar’s slender half-time lead, Lebanon had to open up, take risks and attack. They held a threat, mostly on the counter, but it was always going to be a long way back for the lowest-ranked team in the tournament and Almoez killed off any Lebanese goals with a 56th-minute header to double Qatar’s lead.

Unmarked, Almoez made no mistake from a few yards out with a majestic leap following a smooth attack over the left, involving Afif and a pinpoint cross from captain Hassan Al-Haydos, who was substituted minutes later.

With ten goals, Almoez became the third player with double-digit goals in Asian Cup history, alongside Ali Daei and  Lee Dong-gook.

It was a poignant reminder of the importance of the trusted duo of Afif and Almoez to Qatar’s fortunes. Almoez was substituted after going down with injury, causing concern for the hosts on another wise perfect night.

In injury time, Afif sealed Qatar’s win, bursting forward and outpacing Lebanon’s jaded defence to slip the ball past the goalkeeper, 3-0.

Four years ago, the Maroons defeated the Lebanese 2-0. On home soil, in front of their fans and with the desire to ignite the competition in style, the hosts went one better and made their point – their free-flowing, possession-based football of four years ago was not a fluke.

They look as though now might have the foundation to do it all over again. Lebanon have been dispatched, and Tajikistan should be next.  Qatar will be hoping that is just the start of the party that will end with their return to the Lusail for the final on February 10.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1713304791labto1713304791ofdlr1713304791owedi1713304791sni@i1713304791tnuk.1713304791ardni1713304791mas1713304791

 

 


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