ABU DHABI: Qatar defied sandal-throwing local fans to storm into the Asian Cup final for the first time with a 4-0 win over hosts United Arab Emirates yesterday, setting up a decider against Japan in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Boualem Khoukhi’s early strike and an eighth goal of the tournament from striker Almoez Ali gave Qatar a 2-0 halftime lead and captain Hassan Al-Haydos and Hamid Ismail completed the rout in the last 10 minutes.
The UAE had been hoping to reach the Asian Cup final for the second time, but instead look likely to face sanctions after Ali was pelted with footwear as he celebrated his goal with Haydos and Ismail also the target of missiles.
The cloud of the diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt launched in June 2017 hung heavy over the stadium with the visitors’ national anthem roundly booed by the majority of the crowd of 38,646.
The crowd were stunned into silence in the 22nd minute when Khoukhi cantered into the UAE half on the break and launched a speculative shot towards goal from the corner of the area that slipped under the hands of goalkeeper Khalid Eisa.
While Eisa should have stopped the first goal, there was little he could have done about the second 15 minutes later. Ali powered his way through a trio of static defenders on the left edge of the box and curled his shot into the net off the far post to extend his lead as the tournament’s top scorer.
The young striker was showered with sandals thrown by irate home fans as he celebrated in scenes that will surely elicit some response from the Asian Football Confederation. Sadly for the home fans, there was little response from their team, whose few first-half chances came from crosses launched into the area from the flanks.
Striker Ali Mabkhout, looking for his 10th goal over two Asian Cups, revived UAE hopes with a sizzling long-range drive in the 52nd minute that Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb was forced to tip over the bar.
UAE captain Ismail Matar also looked lively when he came on as a substitute and had a shot blocked in the 69th minute, while Saad was again a match for a looping Ahmed Khalil header.
The breakthrough would not come, however, and Haydos scored the third for the visitors on the break, cheekily chipping Eisa before grabbing the badge on his shirt in celebration to attract a shower of drinks bottles from angry fans.
Insult was added to indignity in stoppage time when UAE defender Ismail Ahmed was sent off after a VAR review for an elbow to the face of Salem Al-Hajri and Hamid Ismail beat Eisa for the fourth time to trigger another barrage of bottles. – Reuters