Qatar maintains the Asian Cup at home by defeating Jordan 3-1 | Asia Cup News

Lusail Stadium, Qatar – The world’s eyes were once again turned to the majestic Lusail Stadium as it hosted another historic final witnessed by host Qatar. Holding on to the Asian Cup title Against first-time finalists Jordan.

The country’s favorite footballing son and standout performer Akram Afif was the hero, scoring three spot kicks that gave Qatar a 3-1 win in the 2023 Asian Football Cup final on Saturday.

The host team was one of the title contenders but was not the favorite when it opened its tournament campaign by beating Lebanon 3-0 at the same venue last month.

But they leave Losail as back-to-back champions – the first time the feat has been achieved since Japan’s back-to-back wins in 2000 and 2004 – and with their star player Afif as the best player on the continent.

Jordan, the losing finalists, leave with their hearts broken but their heads held high after an inspiring run in the tournament that took them to their first ever final.

Nerves are wreaking havoc in Jordan

Al-Nashma started the match with tense nerves and under the weight of the expectations of his adoring fans. They were unable to complete the movements and pass the ball to the attacking force consisting of Moussa Tamari and Yazan Al-Naimat.

The poor start eventually cost them when Qatar were awarded a penalty kick midway through the first half and the ball was handed to Afif by his captain Hassan Al-Haydos. Number 11 did nothing wrong and rolled up his sock to pull out a card with the letter S written on it to celebrate.

His celebration of his unique goal sparked controversy on social media, but Afif later confirmed that it was a reference to his wife, whose name begins with the letter, and to whom he attributes his success.

“This was the first time she had seen me on the field, so I decided to dedicate it to her,” he told astonished reporters afterwards.

Jordan came back into form after halftime. Under pressure from their raucous fans, the players began to show glimpses of their attacking prowess. This led to an equalizer from Al-Naimat and the match seemed to be heading towards the final half hour of the match.

Once the ball returned to Jordan’s half, Jordan defended clumsily and missed another penalty kick. Afif had to score the goal that put the Golden Boot award in the tournament beyond doubt.

The rapid change in fortunes and results seemed difficult for the Jordanian players and their fans. Their loud cheers gave way to stunned silence as Qatar fans celebrated in disbelief.

Football - Asian Cup - Final - Jordan vs. Qatar - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - February 10, 2024 The Jordanian players look depressed after the match Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani
Jordanian players look depressed after the match (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters)

Later, Jordanian coach Hussein Amouta scheduled the second penalty kick at the moment when his team was far behind the hosts.

He said in his press conference after the match: “The timing of the penalty kicks was crucial and they did not allow us to come back.”

Amouta, who beat the Jordanians within weeks, said pressure from the players’ friends and families, as well as fans on social media, may have affected their performance.

“I can’t take their phones and tablets and tell them they can’t talk to people – but I had a fear that these factors would have an impact on their mental state during the match.”

Football - Asian Cup - Final - Jordan vs. Qatar - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - February 10, 2024 Qatar player Akram Afif celebrates scoring his second goal Reuters/Molly Darlington
Akram Afif holds a card with “S” written on it after scoring Qatar’s first goal (Molly Darlington/Reuters)

“Cristiano Middle East”

Qatar’s victory and Jordan’s fate were decided in the fifth minute of stoppage time when Afif completed a hat-trick from a penalty kick after receiving the ball again from his teammates.

The 27-year-old has been a standout performer and it was only a matter of time until he was linked with the European leagues.

But the Al Sadd striker, who spent loan spells at Spanish clubs, avoided questions and said any potential move would have to be initiated by the club and approved by his beloved wife.

“Right now, what I know is that we are back-to-back (Asian) champions,” Afif said, shrugging his shoulders.

Thanks to his performance as man of the match, Afif succeeded in attracting new fans from all over the Arab world.

Mohammed Rabie, who came to watch the match from Kuwait, told Al Jazeera after the match: “He (Afeef) is very good – my word, he is the Cristiano (Ronaldo) of the Middle East.”

Others, like eight-year-old Mohammed Al Kaabi, were thrilled to see the player score a hat-trick.

“It’s the happiest day of my life!” cheered the young fan outside the stadium.

Football - Asian Cup - Final - Jordan vs. Qatar - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - February 10, 2024 Qatar player Hassan Al-Haydos with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani after winning the Asian Football Cup Reuters/Thaer Al-Sudani
Hassan Al-Haydos with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters)

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, attended the match and presented warm hugs and medals to the winners to Al Annabi.

When it was time to hand the trophy over to the winning captain, Al-Haydos, there was a moment’s delay. What is the trophy served at Lusail without the black and gold bisht? The prince helped his team captain put on the world-famous abaya before handing him the shiny trophy that never left Qatar.

Al-Haydos, Afif and Qatar’s champion goalkeeper Mishal Barshim took the tournament’s top honors and ensured the trophy would not leave the country for another four years – at least.

Lusail Stadium was lit up with a ring of fireworks again, and the street next to it hosted another Parade of Champions a year later.

The party that started in Lusail continued in different parts of the country with cars honking and flags waving.

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