Striker Akram Afif Saturday scripted a fairytale performance for the ages with a hat-trick of goals as Qatar defended their AFC Asian Cup crown after a 3-1 demolition of Jordan in the final.
Playing in front of 86,492 fans at the iconic Lusail Stadium, Afif converted three penalty kicks across two halves to help Qatar become the Asian champions for the second time in a row.
With last night's heroic performance, Afif wrapped up the 24-team tournament with eight goals after exhibiting electric speed and match awareness in all the seven matches Qatar played.
Qatar Saturday became the fifth country to win back-to-back AFC Asian Cup titles after South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
The 27-year-old forward was Saturday declared the Most Valuable Player for his artistry in a trying semi-final against Iran before goal spree Saturday in the final against Jordan. Afif also won the Highest Scorer trophy.
Qatar, who won the 2019 edition in the UAE five years ago, Saturday lagged behind in ball possession at 42 percent but demonstrated greater will to win after arriving with new coach Marquez Lopez just three weeks prior to the start of the tournament.
Qatar stopper Meshaal Barsham, who stopped three penalties against Uzbekistan in their quarter-final win, was named the Best Goalkeeper. Barsham made a series of saves Saturday. Qatar also won the Fair Play Trophy.
Afif converted his first penalty in the 22nd minute before Jordan equalized through Yazan Al-Naimat's smart finish in the 67th minute.
Six minutes later, following a VAR review, Afif got the chance to score his second of the night in the 73rd minute. In injury time, Afif scored his third when another VAR decision favoured Qatar.
After the final whistle, the Qatari players picked up Afif on their shoulders and then threw him in the air to celebrate their second successive Asian title glory.
"I would like to thank all Qataris. Congratulations to the coach and the fans. I can't really express what we feel but the coach worked really hard for us," Afif, who also scored from the penalty spot in the 2019 final against Japan, said Saturday.
"However, I want to tell the fans that there is more to come from us. I also would like to thank my teammates for having confidence in me to take the penalties. That gave me a lot of confidence for all three penalties. I think we deserved the win tonight," the Al Sadd star added.
Qatar coach Lopez said Saturday: "I congratulate the Qatari people and players. We're so happy after winning this difficult game, the tension was high. Maybe we didn't play beautiful football today but everyone remembers the winner. I'm so happy for Akram, he deserved to win all the awards."
Before the final kicked off, Iraq football legend and former AFC Asian Cup captain Younis Mahmoud unveiled the trophy.
Qatar took the lead in the final when Afif was tripped inside the Jordan box in the 22nd minute by Jordan's Abdallah Nasib. The referee pointed to the spot kick which was easily converted by Afif.
Perhaps fatigued from a draining semi-final against Iran, Afif started the clash slowly, producing a weak shot in the 9th minute, his first attack on Jordan goal. Shortly afterwards, al-Naimat produced a bullet from the edge of the Qatar box but his shot was palmed away by 'keeper Barsham.
Jordan showed more intent with another attack when winger Musa al-Taamari slipped in a cross from the flank but his shot was collected in a slick manner by Barsham who beat Jordan's Ali Olwan tearing towards the ball.
Seconds later Olwan was booked for rough contact after Barsham had collected the ball.
After Afif's opening goal in the 22nd minute, Qatar maintained dominance with sharp moves in the first half. Soon after the half-hour mark, defender Lucas Mendes produced a snap-header off an Afif corner kick but the ball bounced in front of Jordan keeper Yazeed Abulaila and went over the crossbar.
In injury time, Qatar's Mohamed Waad blocked a shot by al-Tamari from close range. At the hour-mark, Nizar al-Rashdan produced a bullet from the edge of the box but Barsham pushed the ball away for a corner. Seconds later, defender Yazan al-Arab managed a bicycle kick but Barsham remained alert to affect another save.
In the 67th, Jordan equalised after al-Naimat received a long, loopy cross from the flank. He found space to aim with a crushing left-footed drive that sailed past Barsham.
Thereafter it was Qatar's night as Afif made the most of two VAR decisions to seal his team's spectacular win. Afif scored his second goal after Mahmoud al-Mardi’s foul on Qatar's Ismaeel Mohamed. Jordan conceded their third penalty after goalkeeper Abulaila was judged to have tripped Boualem Khoukhi after a VAR review.
Qatar's forward #11 Akram Afif celebrates with the Most Valuable Player Award trophy during the podium ceremony after the AFC Qatar 2023 Asian Cup final football match between Jordan and Qatar at the Lusail Stadium.
Qatar's players celebrate with their supporters after winning the AFC Qatar 2023 Asian Cup final football match between Jordan and Qatar at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on February 10, 2024. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)
Qatar's goalkeeper #22 Meshaal Barsham celebrates with the Best Goalkeeper Award trophy during the podium ceremony after the AFC Qatar 2023 Asian Cup final football match between Jordan and Qatar at the Lusail Stadium.
Qatar's forward #11 Akram Afif holds his Most Valuable Player Award trophy alongside his goalkeeper #22 Meshaal Barsham with the latter's Top Goal Scorer Award trophy during the podium ceremony after the AFC Qatar 2023 Asian Cup final football match between Jordan and Qatar at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail.