Felix Sanchez’s Qatar thrashed hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) 4-0 at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to reach the final of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Boualem Khoukhi and Almoez Ali struck in the first half to stun the Emirati fans who had flocked the Abu Dhabi stadium before captain Hassan Al-Haydos and Hamid Ismaeil made it miserable reading for Alberto Zaccheroni’s side late in the second half.
As Qatar won the ticket to face four-time champions Japan in their first-ever final on February 1, FOX Sports Asia takes a look at the five key talking points form the high-voltage semifinal encounter.
1) Sanchez and Qatar once again show their tactical flexibility
With key personnel Bassam Al-Rawi and Abdulaziz Hatem suspended, all eyes were on Felix Sanchez on how he will deal with the crisis. But, when you have a group of players which allows for tactical and positional flexibility as much as Qatar do, the job of the coach becomes much, much easier. That was already on display during the Maroon’s quarterfinals against Korea Republic as well when defensive midfielder Assim Madibo and full-back Abdelkarim Hassan suspended. While they lined up with three-man central defence against the Taegeuk Warriors, they reverted to a four-man backline on Tuesday against their regional rivals UAE. While Boualem Khoukhi who was seen in the midfield in the early stages of the tournament deputised excellently for suspended Al-Rawi as a centre, Akram Afif was comfortable both dropping down to midfield and on the wings. And the former Barcelona coach once again proved that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
2) Goalkeeper Eisa’s howler gives Qatar the breakthrough
AFC Asian Cup 2019: Qatar 1-0 UAE – Boualem Khoukhi (22′)
The hosts were on the defensive from the kickoff and it was Qatar who went ahead deservedly in the 22nd minute. But the manner in which the hosts conceded the goal would not have pleased Zaccheroni and Emirates goalkeeper Khalid Eisa. And they will be even more disappointed that the goal came out of a counter after UAE had threatened Qatar for the very first time in the match. Khoukhi and Almoez broke with pace with UAE defenders scrambling and the former let go a shot from the wide which slipped through the gloves of Eisa and into the goal. For a goalkeeper who had received high praise for his performances in the recently concluded 2018 FIFA Club World Cup where he helped his club side Al Ain FC reach the final against Real Madrid, Eisa would have been expected to do better and keep the scores level in Abu Dhabi!
3) Almoez on par with Iran great Ali Daei
AFC Asian Cup 2019: Qatar 2-0 UAE – Almoez Ali (37′)
Much has been talked and written about Almoez Ali. But the 22-year-old has been suffering from a mini dip in form not scoring in two knockout stage matches. After scoring seven goals, having seven shots on target and 10 shots in total in the Asian Cup group stages, Almoez had recorded just three shots with one on target in the Round of 16 and quarterfinal ties. However, Almoez once agains silenced his critics and proved he can rise to the big occasion by scoring a peach of a goal to double Qatar’s advantage against UAE. Almoez latched onto a ball from the Akram Afif on the left wing and ran at the UAE defence before bending a shot past the goalkeeper which bulged the net after hitting the post. The goal also meant that the Aspire Academy product became the first man to score eight goals in a single AFC Asian Cup tournament since the legendary Ali Daei pulled off the feat in the 1996 edition of the tournament — also held in the UAE.
4) UAE might have overachieved to reach the semifinal
Tuesday was the night UAE were finally found out. They could count themselves lucky to have progressed so far in the tournament and setting aside their display against Australia in the quarterfinal, the host nation failed to impress. UAE began the tournament with a team goalless draw. They were then carved open on many occasions by India in the second match, but managed to escape with a 2-0 win before drawing 1-1 with Thailand in the final group match. They then conceded two against Kyrgyz Republic in the last 16 tie before reaching the semifinal with an upset of the Socceroos. However, the fact is that the Emiratis may have overachieved under Italian coach Zaccheroni by reaching the semifinals.
5) Qatar deserved hosts of 2022 FIFA World Cup?
AFC Asian Cup 2019: Qatar 3-0 UAE – Hassan Al Haydos (80′)
By putting four past a hapless UAE, the young Qatar side once again proved they can cope with the pressure that comes with the big stage. For a team that was only tipped with an outside chance of making the quarterfinals, let alone final, Qatar, unlike UAE, have overachieved. However, with the 2022 FIFA World Cup visiting their nation in four years’ time, it is only good reading for Qatar as they prove they can compete among the big boys with a squad that has still plenty of room for improvement. But before that, their Spanish coach Sanchez will be very much aware that they are capable of going into the biggest sporting event on the planet with the tag of the Asian champions. And if they can produce the kind of display they pulled off against UAE on the night, you wouldn’t put it past them to upset four-time champions Japan at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on February 1.