Qatar begin Asian Cup title defence with a well-deserved victory over Lebanon.
23 January 2024, 12:00 AM
10 February 2024, 12:00 AM
The opening fixture of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 presented no surprises as host Qatar brushed aside Lebanon to win the opener 3-0 and top Group A, at the Lusail Stadium, on Friday.
The Qatari team won its first three points in the first group, which includes China and Tajikistan, who will meet on Saturday.
Akram Afif (two goals) and Almoez Ali, two heroes of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign, found the net with goals in either half to start their title defence on a high in a packed stadium of 82,490 people.
Lebanon started the match on a defensive note, having five men at the back to contain the long balls. However, Qatar dragged the visitors out of their comfort zone to allow Almoez to make deceptive runs up the pitch.
The hosts almost scored with that strategy, with Almoez receiving the through ball along the left and shooting it past Mostafa Matar in the fifth minute. But, with the semi-automatic offside technology (SAOT) making its debut in this tournament, VAR ruled it out as offside using the same.
In the last minute of the first half, the Qatari team found its way to the net when Youssef Abdel Razzaq passed a ball towards Al-Moez Ali, who in turn prepared it for Akram Afif, who fired it powerfully into the net, scoring the goal to advance the Qatari team.
Qatar looked like a better-oiled machine in the second half, with more control in set-pieces and soon got its reward, 11 minutes after restart. Mohammed Waad’s right-footed cross from the left found Almoez’s free header as the ball rifled into the net, causing a meltdown among fans at the stadium.
Almoez was Qatar’s hero in the last edition of the tournament, scoring the most goals, and his strike in the opener made him do a little dance in front of his own fans, with fingers on his lips later on, shushing his critics.
In stoppage time, Akram Afif scored his second and third personal goal for the Qatari team, after a fine individual effort, bypassing more than one defender, facing the goalkeeper and putting the ball into the goal in the 90th + 6th minute, securing the deserved victory for the Qatari team, and confirming the success of the start of the campaign to defend the continental title, which the team won in the last edition in 2019 in the Emirates.
Lebanon had its moments though, with captain Hassan Maatouk coming close to scoring in the 21st minute against the run of play. But Meshaal Barsham’s five saves of the night ensured the team went home with a win and a clean sheet.
Qatar plays debutant Tajikistan next while Lebanon will look to change its fortunes against China, with both matches scheduled on January 17.
Match result: Qatar 3 (Akram Afif 45’, 90+6’, Almoez Ali 56’) bt Lebanon 0