Qatar’s Asian Cup final hero Akram Afif said “the team and people were behind me” after he scored a hat-trick of penalties in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Jordan to help his side retain their title.
The livewire forward was named player of the tournament and finished as top scorer on eight goals for the hosts and defending champions in Doha. Afif held his nerve to convert from the spot three times against Jordan in front of over 85,000 fans at Lusail Stadium, which staged the World Cup final 14 months ago. The 27-year-old said he “scored because of the confidence my teammates had in me”.
“It’s not about the technique or the angle, it’s about feeling that the team and people are behind me,” he said.
Afif celebrated his goals by producing a playing card with his picture on it before the image flipped to an “S”. He later revealed that it was a tribute to his wife, who was attending a game at the stadium for the first time. “’S’ is the first letter of my wife’s name, she’s from Kuwait. Today’s match was her first in the stadium,” Afif said. “The cup will remain in Doha...We will tell our fans that the best is yet to come.”
Afif plays for Qatari side Al Sadd and had stints at clubs in Belgium and Spain earlier in his career. He said he “would like to” have another crack at making it in Europe but admitted it was “difficult”. “It’s not an easy decision – there are so many factors at play,” he said. “It’s a question of fate. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Afif helped Qatar banish the painful memory of their 2022 World Cup flop on home soil by retaining the Asian Cup. They lost all three of their World Cup games and crashed out in the group phase, the worst record of any host in the competition’s history.
But it was a different story at the Asian Cup, where Qatar retained their title despite replacing coach Carlos Queiroz with Tintin Marquez a month before the tournament began. “The coach worked hard with us,” said Afif. “You know the teams that we played against. This was not something easy.”
Afif, who also played a prominent role in Qatar’s triumphant campaign in 2019, opened his 2023 account by scoring twice in the 3-0 Group A win over Lebanon in the opening match. He then struck the winner in the 1-0 victory over Tajikistan, a result which confirmed Qatar’s knockout stage spot with a match to spare. Afif was on target again in the Round of 16, scoring the winner as Qatar saw off a spirited challenge from Palestine.
He was on top of his game yet again in the semi-final against Iran, scoring Qatar’s second with a thunderous effort as the hosts edged to a 3-2 victory. The final saw yet another wonder show from Afif, who scored thrice from the penalty spot - the only player to net at hat-trick at Qatar 2023 - to power the Maroons to their second AFC Asian Cup title.
In emulating teammate Almoez Ali in winning both the MVP and Top Scorer awards, Afif took his involvement to 22 AFC Asian Cup goals since the beginning of the last edition (9 goals and 13 assists), constituting 67 percent involvement in Qatar’s goals in the two tournaments.
Qatar’s Barsham named Best Goalkeeper
Meanwhile, Qatar’s Meshaal Barsham was named the Best Goalkeeper of the tournament after playing a pivotal role in his side lifting the coveted trophy. The custodian, who celebrates his 26th birthday on Wednesday, started six of Qatar’s seven matches.
Barsham, who plays his club football with Al Sadd SC, was rock-solid throughout Qatar’s campaign. He kept three clean sheets out of the seven matches Qatar played – having come on as substitute in the final group match against China.
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