Qatar retain Asian Cup title thanks to Afif’s penalty hat-trick

Qatar successfully defended their Asian Cup crown after beating Jordan 3-1 on Saturday at Lusail Stadium where Akram Afif converted three penalties as the hosts won their second continental title.

Playing in their first Asian Cup final, Jordan sought their first major trophy. But it was Qatar who prevailed in front of 86,492 fans including Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad AI Thani and FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Yazan Al-Naimat had briefly given Jordan hope when he netted an equalizer in the second half but their dreams were shattered when they conceded two more penalties, put away by Afif who finished as the tournament’s top scorer with eight goals.

Afif, who was thrown into the air repeatedly by his teammates after the final whistle, also picked up the award for player of the match and most valuable player of the tournament.

“I congratulate the Qatari people and players. We’re so happy after winning this difficult game, the tension was high,” coach Marquez Lopez told reporters.

“Maybe we didn’t play beautiful football today but everyone remembers the winner. I’m so happy for Akram, he deserved to win all the awards.”

Since leading Qatar to the 2019 title with a tournament record 10 assists, Afif has become one of Asia’s most-feared players.

At the start of this tournament, he said he had dreams of returning to Europe having previously played for Eupen in the Belgian Pro League.

He later became the first Qatari player to be signed by a LaLiga club when he moved to Villarreal in 2016, but he was loaned out to Sporting Gijon before returning to Eupen and finally to Al-Sadd in 2018.

He has since developed and is arguably playing at his peak based on his Asian Cup exploits.

“Scoring penalties is because of the confidence my teammates had in me. It’s not about technique or choosing the angle, it’s the feeling of having my team behind me,” Afif said.

China’s match officials Ma Ning, Zhou Fei, Zhang Cheng and Fu Ming officiated the Asian Cup final, marking the first time a Chinese referee team has taken charge of the tournament’s final.

Ma was the referee, while Zhou and Zhang served as assistant referees. Fu was the video assistant referee for the game.