Qatar will be aiming to secure their first Asian Cup title when they meet Continental superpower Japan in what should be a tight final on Friday.
The Samurai Blue may have the Asian Cup pedigree but they are a work in progress and stuttered through their early matches in the United Arab Emirates before exploding into life with a ruthless 3-0 humbling of heavyweights Iran in the semi-finals.
Qatar had the easier route through the last four against the hosts but showed huge character in the face of a hostile crowd to run out 4-0 winners and reach a continental title-decider for the first time.
Felix Sanchez's Qatar side have the leading marksman in the tournament in Almoez Ali, who scored his eighth goal against the UAE to match Ali Daei's 1996 record, and go into the final having won all six matches without conceding a single goal.
“This is definitely the most important game in Qatar’s football history” said the Spaniard.
“We are now obviously at the stage of the tournament where the team is in a confident mood and looking forward to starting the game. Obviously if we win the trophy, it will be Qatar’s biggest achievement in terms of football.
“Hopefully, we can have one more good performance. One of the key things for us is that there is a great team spirit, everyone is working together to achieve the same result.”
Sanchez said the players are fully focused on the job.
|“The players are determined to get the victory we want by putting in one more huge effort against Japan so that we can make the Qatari people happy once again and make history.”
When we arrived to play in the AFC Asian Cup, our target was to test ourselves against everyone, to be able to compete against all the teams here, and to be able to hold our own against the very best in Asia,” declared the Barcelona native.
“We have had six games and six different stories, there has been pressure during the group stage and then even more pressure during the knockout phase. We trust the team and believe in them.
“We came here with the hope that we could challenge everyone in Asia, and it is not a surprise to me that we are here as we already knew the qualities of our players."
Japan striker Yuya Osako, who scored two goals in an outstanding performance against Iran, will certainly test the Qatar defensive line at Zayed Sports City but it will be bolstered by the return from suspension of Bassam al-Rawri.
Coach Hajime Moriyasu took over the Japan squad after last year's run to the last 16 at the World Cup and the control they showed in beating Iran was testimony to his rebuilding work.
As much as Osako and fellow forward Takumi Minamino impressed, it was the work in central defence of experienced captain Maya Yoshida and 20-year-old Takehiro Tomiyasu that laid the foundation for the win.
The pair held firm in the face of a barrage of long balls hoofed up to the powerful Iran forward line and will hope to similarly shepherd the more subtly skilled Qatari attackers Akram Afif and Ali today.
Ali, captain Hassan Al-Haydos and Hamid Ismail braved a more literal barrage of missiles from the irate UAE fans as they celebrated semi-final goals on Tuesday and the composure they showed should hold them in good stead against Japan.
The Qataris, many of whom have been coached by Sanchez up through the age groups from when they were nine years old, have shown a great sense of tactical cohesion and team unity throughout the tournament.
While their ultimate goal will be to avoid humiliation when Qatar becomes the first Gulf nation to host the World Cup in three years' time, you get the sense that the players are on something of a mission in the UAE.
Their fans have been unable to travel across the Gulf to support the team because of the current political rift between Qatar and the UAE and the players appear determined to take a first major international trophy home to them.
With few Japanese fans having made the trip and the locals not being too well-disposed towards the Qataris at the moment, there might not be much of a crowd to see them do it if they can prevent Japan from lifting the cup for a fifth time.
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