Qatar will be relying on ‘courage and determination’ to win the AFC Asian Cup final for the second time on Saturday when they face giant-killers Jordan, coach Marquez Lopez said on Friday.
Defending champions Qatar are on a 13-match unbeaten streak after their stunning 3-2 win over Iran in the semi-finals on Wednesday. Jordan, coached by Hussein Ammouta, upset giants South Korea in their last-four clash on Tuesday to reach their first-ever Asian Cup final.
A packed house of 88,000 is expected to watch the final at Lusail Stadium where Argentina lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy a little over a year ago.
Qatar, who posted seven wins at the 2019 edition held in the UAE, have beaten Lebanon, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran before setting up a final date with surprise finalists Jordan.
Chief striker Akram Afif has delivered dream performances having netted five times in six matches including the goal of the tournament against Iran on Wednesday when he hoodwinked four markers to score with a boomerang shot from the edge of the box.
Fellow forward Almoez Ali has scored two goals at crunch moments while 2019 Asian Cup winning captain Hasan al-Haydos has been inspirational on the pitch with three goals.
Young goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham - who stopped three penalties in the shootout against Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals - is expected to brave Jordanian attacks on Saturday with similar gusto.
“We are here with the same courage and determination, aspiring only to win. That’s what matters most to us,” Lopez said at the pre-final news conference. “We are determined to compete fiercely and play our best to win the match. Second place will not be enough – we aim to be the best in Asia,” the 59-year-old added.
“I’m confident all my players are more than capable and deserving of playing in this tournament. I have always emphasised knowing each player’s strengths and how they can contribute. Every player has played a role in getting us to where we are now. This is a fundamental part of our philosophy,” Lopez said. “In the final, there will always be pressure, especially against a team that has performed well throughout the tournament. However, ultimately, competition drives us, and each of us aims to emerge victorious,” he added.
When reminded that Jordan savoured three days of rest following their semi-final against South Korea on Tuesday, Lopez quickly admitted: “It was a short turnaround (for Qatar), with players having only two days to recover after the semi-final (against Iran). Rest and recovery were crucial, especially considering we’re facing a team we highly respect.”
Coach Lopez expressed his gratitude to his in-form trio of Afif, Almoez and al-Haydos who has gone past Lionel Messi in the list of most international caps. The 33-year-old Qatari forward has played 184 games.
“Players are not machines; they run and play hard. It’s normal for their performance to fluctuate. Iran made a comeback and almost scored, but we also had chances to score. No player can maintain peak performance for the entire 90 minutes, but we were giving our best to secure the win,” Lopez said.
The Spaniard was also quick to acknowledge that Jordan coach Ammouta - who formerly managed Al Sadd in Qatar Stars League from 2012-2105 - has inside knowledge on Qatari players.
“Ammouta is exceptional, having experience coaching in Qatar,” Lopez said.
Ammouta, who played for Qatar SC in 2003, on Friday said Jordan remain keen to go for their first-ever title win. “We don’t need to explain how important the final match is, as both teams want to win a historical title. We prepare for the final as normal, without adding any more pressure on the players, and we hope to produce a performance that reflects our team level, and what we produced to reach the final. This match is very important, and may witness the first major title for Jordan football,” Ammouta said on Friday.
“I’m very satisfied with our achievement. It was a personal challenge for me to take Jordan to the final and I have achieved what I aimed for. We will have a full squad despite some minor injuries but the players will be ready,” he added.
When reminded about Jordan’s 2-1 win over Qatar in a pre-tournament friendly, Ammouta said: “Qatar are defending champions and playing at home, making them formidable opponents. It’s not easy to play against them. It’s not easy to achieve what they have done.”
He added: “We played a friendly match (before the tournament) and it was challenging to secure the win against Qatar. Despite anticipating difficulty, we are all united in aiming to cross the finish line successfully. We aim to exceed expectations.”
Qatar players warm-up during a training session at the Aspire.
Jordan players train in Lusail on Friday. (AFP)
Qatar’s coach Marquez Lopez (right) and his Jordan counterpart Hussein Ammouta greet each other on Friday, on the eve of the AFC Asian Cup final.