HOSTS Qatar retained the Asian Cup with a 3-1 win on Saturday against surprise packages Jordan with Akram Afif the home hero with 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.
It will also help dispel the memories of Qatar’s World Cup, when they lost all three games, the worst record of any host in the competition’s history.
Playing in front of 86,492 spectators at Lusail Stadium, which staged the World Cup final 14 months ago, Jordan were in their first Asian Cup final and contesting the biggest game in their history.
Ranked 87th in FIFA’s world rankings, 29 places below their opponents, they fell behind midway through the first half when forward Afif held his nerve with a penalty for his sixth goal of the tournament.
Qatar fully deserved their half-time lead but Jordan roared back to equalise through Yazan Al-Naimat’s smart finish.
The underdogs were level however for just six minutes, Afif slotting home once again from the penalty spot 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 scored again from the spot for his hat-trick in injury time, again after a VAR intervention.
At the final whistle the triumphant Qatari substitutes raced from the bench and threw Afif in the air.
Qatar came into the final attempting to become the fifth team to lift back-to-back Asian titles and hoping to erase the bitter memories of their home World Cup.
Qatar parachuted in the Spaniard Tintin Marquez to replace former Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz just a month before the Asian Cup, in a major gamble that paid off handsomely.
His side started the final the better and had a couple of early sniffs at goal through danger man Afif, before Jordan’s centre-forward Naimat stung the palms of home goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham.
Qatar went ahead on 22 minutes when the livewire Afif, playing off the left, was clipped in the box by Abdallah Nasib.
Afif brushed himself down to plant his spotkick into the bottom corner, just beating the outstretched arms of Yazeed Abulaila, to join Iraq’s Aymen Hussein as the joint leading scorer in the competition.
In an unusual celebration, the 27-year-old Afif did a card trick, produced a playing card with his picture on it before the image flipped to an “S”.
Jordan, who defeated Son Heung-min’s South Korea 2-0 to reach the final, had their best chance in first-half injury time but Mousa Al-Tamari’s first-time effort was blocked by Mohammed Waad.
Hussein Ammouta’s Jordan were disappointing in the first half but they cranked up the pressure in the second, Montpellier’s Tamari, captain Ehsan Haddad and Yazan Al-Arab all forcing Barsham into saves.
The goal was coming and in the 67th minute it duly arrived, Naimat bringing the ball down with his right foot and then thrashing in with his left on the half-volley for his fourth of the tournament.
Qatar and Afif responded almost immediately however, and he produced the card trick once more after beating Abulaila from the spot for a second time, this time in even more convincing fashion.
It was Afif, inevitably, who won the third penalty and he did the business once again for his eighth goal of the tournament.