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Akram Afif of Qatar celebrates scoring their second goal with team mates during the AFC Asian Cup Semi Final match between Iran and Qatar at Al Thumama Stadium on February 07, 2024 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Asia Cup

Holders Qatar one step away from title defence

Qatar moved within one match of retaining their AFC Asian Cup™ title after emerging 3-2 victors against Islamic Republic of Iran in their Qatar 2023 semi-final at the Al Thumama Stadium on Wednesday.

Almoez Ali, the 2019 Most Valuable Player and top scorer, struck the winner eight minutes before the end in a thrilling last four tie which saw the Maroons snap a six-game losing run against Team Melli to set up a final meeting with Jordan.

Both teams made two changes each to their starting lineups, Iran’s Ardeshir Ghalehnoy reinstating Ehsan Hajisafi and Mehdi Taremi while Marquez Lopes gave starts to Yusuf Abdurisag and Homam Ahmed.

It was Team Melli who got off to a spectacular start, Sardar Azmoun capitalising on Qatar’s inability to deal with a throw-in to hook an acrobatic effort past a stranded Meshaal Barsham in the fourth minute.

Qatar, however, did not trail for long, drawing level 13 minutes later with Akram Afif’s cutback setting up Jassem Gaber for a shot that took a deflection off Saeid Ezatohali, looped over Alireza Beiranvand and settled in the back of the net.

Iran continued to dominate possession with Qatar relying on counter attacks, and it almost paid off for the hosts in the 32nd minute when Afif pounced on a loose back pass to surge unchallenged but hit his shot straight at a grateful Beiranvand.

The Al Sadd SC star, however, was not to be denied two minutes before the end of the first half when after receiving a pass from Ahmed Fathy on the left, he took a couple of steps before unleashing a powerful drive for his fifth goal of the tournament.

Iran were quick to assert control when the second half got underway and needed only six minutes to restore parity, a VAR review determining Ezatohali’s shot had hit Fathy’s hands. Jahanbakhsh calmly slotted home from the penalty spot for his second goal of the tournament.

Qatar’s response was almost immediate, but for the heroics of Beiranvand who pulled off a smart save near his post to deny Abdurisag with Shojae Khalilzadeh then making a goal-line clearance of Pedro Miguel’s header from the subsequent corner.

Having had to rely on counter attacks for glimpses at goal, Qatar burst into life in the 82nd minute when Abdulaziz Hatem laid the ball to an unmarked Ali, who had ample time to pick his spot before slotting home, the goal taking his overall tally to 11 as he moved into second place in the all-time topscorers list.

Thirteen minutes of additional time gave Iran hope, but a surging Afif run was checked by Khalilzadeh, with a VAR review replacing an initial yellow card to red.

Even then, Iran twice came close to drawing level, Jahanbakhsh’s attempt hitting the left upright and Barsham getting his palm to a goalmouth scramble as Qatar held on for victory.

Credit: AIPS Media

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