Doha, Feb. 12: Hosts Qatar retained the Asian Cup with a 3-1 win on Saturday against surprise packages Jordan as Akram Afif scored a hat-trick of penalties. It was a fitting final act to a month of football that began with 24 teams and witnessed a series of dramatic games and plenty of goals.
It will also help dispel the memories of Qatar's 2022 World Cup, when they lost all three games, the worst record of any host in the competition's history. The 27-year-old Afif was the hero, holding his nerve once from the penalty spot in the first half and, after under dogs Jordan equalised, twice more in the second period.
He was named player of the tournament and finished top scorer with eight goals.
His team-mates threw him in the air at the final whistle.
"It is not about the technique or the angle," said Afif, asked how he was able to score three penalties under pressure in front of 86,492 spectators at Lusail Stadium.
"It's about the feeling that the team and people are behind me."
Jordan were in their first Asian Cup final and contesting the biggest match in their history.
Ranked 87th in FIFA's world rankings, 29 places below their opponents, they fell behind midway through the first half when Afif slotted home after being brought down in the box. Qatar deserved their half-time lead but Jordan roared back to equalise through Yazan Al-Naimat's smart finish.
Jordan were level however for just six minutes, Afif scoring once again from a penalty after the referee was advised by VAR to go to his pitch-side monitor. This time there was to be no Jordan comeback and Afif capitalised again from the spot for his hat-trick in injury time, again after a VAR intervention.
Qatar came into the final attempting to become the fifth team to lift back-to-back Asian titles.
Qatar parachuted in the Spaniard Tintin Marquez to replace Carlos Queiroz just a month before the Asian Cup, in a major gamble that paid off handsomely.
"I took charge just before the tournament but what was most important was that I knew the players and they implemented my ideas fast and executed my plans," said Marquez, who has a decade-long association with Qatari football and managed one of their club sides.
The competition, originally scheduled to take place in China last year but postponed and moved because of Covid, will be remembered for shocks -- even if the final failed to produce one last one.
Pre-tournament favourites Japan were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Iran, who subsequently lost to Qatar in a five-goal thriller. Jordan reached the semi-finals for the first time and blew away South Korea, leaving coach Jurgen Klinsmann clinging precariously onto his job.
Tajikistan made the quarter-finals on their Asian Cup debut, while Palestine also made a piece of history by reaching the knockout rounds for the first time.