Just like that, we’re down to the final match of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 with Japan and Qatar as the last two teams standing.
The Samurai Blue were expected to be one of the contenders as they have the talent and the history in the competition. With a tournament-best four AFC Asian Cup titles so far, they’re now gunning for their fifth.
AFC ASIAN CUP 2019 Players of Day 9: ALMOEZ ALI & AKRAM AFIF
They had to battle a tough IR Iran in the quarterfinal and their 3-0 victory cemented their spot in the 2019 final and few could argue that they could win it all.
On the other hand, Qatar have only reached the quarterfinal twice prior to the 2019 campaign. In 2000, they were eventually eliminated by China PR and in 2011, it was Japan who saw them off in the quarters.
Four years ago, they failed to win a single match in the group stages but have since turned things around by winning all of their group stage battles in 2019.
Even more impressive is that they did not concede a single goal in the entire competition and have scored 16 goals in the process.
And in the centre of it all is a 22-year-old breakout star who is out to set records and help Qatar lift the AFC Asian Cup trophy for the very first time.
His name is Almoez Ali. Who is he? Let’s find out.
TWENTY-TWO YEAR OLD STAR
Almoez Ali opens the scoring with an absolute blinder!
For those who do not know him prior to the AFC Asian Cup, Ali is a Sudanese-born Qatari star who currently plays club football for Al-Duhail in Qatar.
Since his senior debut in 2015, he has played for teams like Cultural Leonesa in Spain, FC Pasching in Austria and Lekhwiya prior to his move to Al-Duhail.
He also only made his senior appearance for Qatar’s national team in 2016 but has made a splash as he’s had 17 international goals to his name in only 33 appearances for the nation.
All these at only 22 years old, it is hard to argue that he is still going to get better in the years to come.
COMING OUT PARTY IN AFC ASIAN CUP
AFC Asian Cup 2019: DPR Korea 0-1 Qatar – Almoez Ali (9′)
With so many eyes on Qatar in the competition due to their 2022 hosting of the FIFA World Cup, the pressure was on.
Despite the team not really having much success in the tournament, there was still pressure as many wondered how much more of a team they could be in 2022 aside from only being the host in the grandest stage of international football.
And above it all, Ali looked like he was determined to show everyone what the team is capable of.
It started in a 2-0 victory for Qatar which saw Ali score the second of the match in the 79th minute to seal the victory.
He would then follow it up with an incredible four-goal haul against DPR Korea When he scored his first two goals only two minutes in between, and the last four only had five minutes in between them in a match that ended in a 6-0 thrashing.
By that time, people already noticed his talent but out to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Ali completed a brace against a tough team in Saudi Arabia where his two goals spelled the 2-0 victory over another regional heavyweight.
It was then that fans started to see just how good Qatar is especially with Ali on board.
STEPPING UP IN THE KNOCKOUT STAGES
AFC Asian Cup 2019: Qatar 2-0 UAE – Almoez Ali (37′)
Qatar would continue their fine form in the round-of-16 where they faced another mighty foe in Iraq where it ended in a close 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from Bassam Al-Rawi.
In the quarterfinal, Abdulaziz Hatem helped the squad by defeating the heavily favoured Korea Republic 1-0 to set-up a clash against tournament hosts United Arab Emirates.
Dubbed as “Blockade Derby,” tensions were high but Qatar overpowered their rivals en route to a 4-0 victory and in that thrashing, Ali’s name resurfaced in the score sheet as he netted the team’s second goal of the night.
A beautiful solo finish, Ali rose above the tension and scored despite being pelted by shoes from the UAE crowd.
With already eight goals to his name, Ali is now the top scorer for the competition and is tied for most by a single player in the a single competition alongside IR Iran legend Ali Daei.
If he manages to score in the final, then he will write his name in history books. Furthermore, if his goal helps Qatar get an unlikely win over yet another tournament favourite then it might just put him in legend status at such a young age.
There is no doubt Japan are looking at Ali as the team’s greatest threat but this year the young football star may be in an entirely different level as he carries the whole team and nation on his shoulders.