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 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.”
A pumped up Qatar Wednesday battled the odds in glorious fashion to carve out a fighting 3-2 win over Iran to reach the final of the AFC Asian Cup for the second successive time.Qatar, who are set to rise to 41 in FIFA rankings after their latest win, have set up the final against Jordan at Lusail Stadium on Saturday.The defending champions last night were guided home with an exhilarating display from striker Akram Afif who scored once and set the ball rolling for the other two goals as the hosts stopped Iran from reaching their first final since 1976.Afif probably scored the goal of the tournament in the 43rd minute when he hoodwinked three markers before he unleashed a curling right-footed drive that went to the left of Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.The other two goals for Qatar were scored by Jassem Gaber in the 17th minute after being fed by a low cross from Afif from the right flank. Almoez Ali, the MVP from Qatar's historic 2019 title win, delivered the winning goal in the 82 minute after a cross from Hatem Aziz who was fed by Afif at Al Thumama Stadium.With football icon David Beckham watching from the VIP enclosure, Qatar survived a fierce onslaught from Iran in the last 8 minutes of the feisty contest that saw 16 minutes of stoppage time added.The semi-final had everything. A red card, a series of in-your face verbal battles among the players of the two sides across the two halves and after-match clashes on the touchline near the team dugouts.The hotly-contested match saw Iran centre-back Shojae Khalilzadeh shown the red card following a VAR referral by the referee in injury time after a rough tackle on Afif who was clearly Qatar's X factor in the match."I'm very happy for everybody, the people of Qatar, the fans and the players. It was a complicated match but I think we played well. The players did not spare any effort," a beaming Qatar coach Marquez Lopez told reporters after the match."The players implemented my philosophy and ideas on the pitch so they deserve my thanks... Now we have one final step left to defend our title," the 59-year-old added. Qatar captain Hasan al-Haydos, who did not start the match, came on early in the second half.The match started off with Iran silencing the 40,342 fans at Al Thumama Stadium when Iran's Sardar Azmoun scored with a bicycle kick in the fourth minute from inside the Qatar box.Qatar's Gaber scored the euqaliser shortly afterwards when he benefited from a heavy deflection off Saeed Ezatolahi inside the Iran box with the ball looping into the net to the right of keeper Beiranvand.With the teams level, Afif produced a classic solo effort from close to the Iran box. Marked by three Iranian players, Afif swiveled and then after creating a tiny space, the 27-year-old Al Sadd star curled in a breathtaking shot that sailed into the net with swing and late dip. It was Afif's fifth goal of the tournament.Iran's Jahanbakhsh converted an easy penalty that was the result of VAR referral by referee Ahmad Alali following a handball by Qatar defender Ahmed Fatehi inside the box. In the dying seconds of the clash, Jahanbakhsh hit the Qatari goalpost to see his team's chances of equalizing in the tense semi-final evaporate into thin air.Afif - who was the star for the home side - failed to take advantage in a one-on-one battle with Iran keeper Beiranvand seconds after the half-hour mark. Late in the second half, Afif fed Almoez an easy cross but the Al Duhail skipper failed to convert with only keeper Beiranvand to beat.Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei apologised to team fans after the match."I want to apologise to the Iranian people because we had the responsibility to make them happy. The second half was the best performance we've had since I've been in charge of the national team," Ghalenoei said.He added: "But this is football, and if you don't take your chances then you will be punished. If you're looking for someone responsible for this defeat, it is me - not the federation or players. I think today was one of the worst days I've had in my life."Wednesday's win was Qatar's first in seven matches against their opponents ranked 20 in the world.
A ‘focused’ Qatar are feeling ready to deliver their best performance today when they take on three-time champions Iran in the semi-final of the AFC Asian Cup 2023.The defending champions are on a 12-match unbeaten streak in the region’s premier national team tournament that has now reached the final phase.Coach Marquez Lopez, who is barely seven weeks into his new job, has given a clear message to his players: enter the Al Thumama Stadium with the intention of winning what many predict will be a feisty last-four clash.“We always play to win and that will be what we’ll be doing (against Iran),” Lopez said confidently on Tuesday at a pre-match news conference. “There’s no talk about trying to take this match into penalties,” the 59-year-old added. Qatar edged Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals in a heart-stopping penalty shootout in their previous match.Lopez seemed buoyant at the news conference knowing he has his strike force of Akram Afif, captain Hasan al-Haydos and Almoez Ali available for selection for the match tonight.The three players so far have combined to score eight goals in the 24-team tournament.“Of course we enter this match with big motivation, we are one step away from the final. We have a chance to reach a second straight final which is a big driving factor for us,” Lopez said.“The players performed well in the previous matches and are extremely focused on continuing the winning streak,” the Qatar coach said in reference to his side’s wins over Lebanon, China, Tajikistan, Palestine and Uzbekistan on way to reaching the semi-finals.Qatar produced seven consecutive wins at the 2019 edition when they won the AFC Asian Cup title with a 3-1 win over Japan in the final.“We are one step away from reaching the final match of the Asian Cup (again). We are excited about the match and look forward to giving our best. We will give our best,” he added.“We recognise that it’s going to be a very tough match,” Lopez added. “It’s our sixth game in a short period, so that will be physically demanding but we are still hopeful of a good performance.“Iran is a very strong team. We have not underestimated any team we have played in this competition so we will not start doing that against Iran,” he said.“The attack of Iran is very strong and we are aware of this. We have plans for that and we will try to minimise their quality up front. We will be playing in front of our fans so that makes this match special,” the coach said.Coach Ardeshir Ghalehnoy said he told Iran players to forget beating four-time champions Japan in the quarter-finals three days ago.“We know that tomorrow’s match is very important. All that we did until now is to reach the final match,” Ghalehnoy said at a news conference on Tuesday.“I told the players to forget the Japan match, what is important now is to beat Qatar and reach the final. We know they are a good team, the defending champions and have spent a lot to improve the team,” he added.“Sometimes you have bad performances, sometimes you have good performances but we’ve only had good performances so far. Even against Japan, we didn’t concede a lot of chances. We may make changes for the game but the level of the team is almost the same, so the quality of the starting XI will not be affected. Tactics that we make in every match, 70%-80% are related to the strength of our team and the balance related to the opponent,” Ghalehnoy said.The Iranian coach acknowledged that his side is up against a strong Qatar squad.“Qatar reaching this stage means they are high quality. We cannot keep looking at the Japan result and think that will take us through,” Ghalehnoy said on Tuesday. “We have to be more concentrated, show more quality and cover more distance. With all that, I hope that we can reach the final for the first time in a long time,” he added.“You can see from (Mehdi) Taremi’s reaction in the last two games and see how united we are as a team and how much we want to do well in this competition,” he warned.Taremi, who plays for FC Porto, will return today to add muscle to the Iran side after a one-game suspension. Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun and Saman Ghoddos will be the other concerns for the Qatari side.The match kicks off at 6:00pm.Points to rememberImpressive recordIran have won their last six matches against Qatar, including a 1-0 win in the AFC Asian Cup 2015 group stage. Iran outscored Qatar 11-1 in those six games. Good runThis will be Iran’s eighth AFC Asian Cup semi-final, the joint-highest with Korea Republic. Semi-final win overdueTeam Melli, however, have not progressed past the semi-final stage in their last six attempts stretching back to 1980, with Japan defeating them at this stage in the 2019 edition. Three-time winnersIran won three consecutive editions between 1968 and 1976, a feat which no other team has managed. A fourth title will draw them level with Japan at the top of the all-time list. Elite listQatar are the ninth team to reach the semi-finals of AFC Asian Cup in two consecutive editions. Always on targetQatar have not failed to score a goal in their eight AFC Asian Cup knockout stage games.
Young goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham on Saturday produced a daring performance against feisty Uzbekistan to single handedly take Qatar into the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup 2023.The 25-year-old Al Sadd keeper stopped three penalties before Qatar defender Pedro Miguel converted the game-changing fifth and final penalty for a thrilling 3-2 win at a packed Al Bayt Stadium.Qatar will take on Iran in the semi-final on Wednesday at Al Thumama Stadium. Iran on Saturday stunned four-time champions Japan 2-1 with a strike in injury time at Education City StadiumIn the first semi-final on Tuesday, South Korea take on Jordan at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.It was defending champions Qatar’s 12th successive Asian Cup win following their seven consecutive victories at the 2019 edition they won in the UAE. It was Qatar’s first win over Uzbekistan in three Asian Cup matches.This will be the second time that Qatar have reached the semi-finals of Asia’s premier national team event following their title winning streak in the UAE in 2019.Saturday’s defeat means Uzbekistan have left the tournament for the second time after their heartbreaking loss in similar fashion against Australia five years ago.Coached by Marquez Lopez, Qatar on Saturday dominated the proceedings in the first half as they walked off for the break with a 1-0 lead following an own goal by keeper Utkir Yusupov.The Qatar players - especially Akaram Afif and captain Hasan al-Haydos - worked in slick unison for most part of the first half making inroads into the Uzbek half almost at will.In the 10th minute, the ever alert Afif pounced a long loopy cross that landed inside the Uzbekistan box but the Qatari striker’s powerful left-footed drive was blocked by ’keeper Yusupov.Close to the half-hour mark, al-Haydos picked up a loose ball and headed towards the Uzbekistan box. An unmarked al-Haydos delivered a low cross that deflected off Rustamjon Ashurmatov’s leg and then flew towards keeper Yusupov who lost sight of the ball and accidently flapped it into his own goal.Captain al-Hayods celebrated the goal - thinking he had nicked the third one this tournament - but the referee correctly called it an own goal by keeper Yusupov.Shortly afterwards, Uzbek midfielders Otabek Shukurov managed to turn inside the Qatar box but his shot flew over the crossbar much to the delight of home fans. With the Uzbekistan forward line increasing pressure on the resultant corner kick, Qatar defender Lucas Mendes headed the ball away for another corner.In what turned out to be an incredible block, Qatar’s Mohamed Waad produced a well-timed slide to block a powerful shot from Pakhtakor winger Azizbek Turgunboev shortly afterwards.Five minutes from close of the first half, Afif fired a long range shot from outside the box but Yusupov made amends for the own goal earlier with a brilliant one-handed save to block a header from Mahdi.Soon after the break, Uzbekistan captain Jaloliddin Masharipov curled in a long range shot in the 55th minute but the ball sailed away just centimetres from the Qatari goal post. After a couple of minutes, Shukurov fired another long range shot that also sailed away close to the goalpost to the left of a diving Barsham.A minute before the hour mark, Odiljon Hamrobekov produced a classy left footed drive to score the equaliser. After breaking free of his marker, Hamrobekov slipped into the Qatar box and then fired a shot to the left of ’keeper Barsham.Neither team could manage a goal in the remaining part of the second half. With players feeling exhausted, the two teams looked scrappy in the two halves of the extra time.After the final whistle, the two teams got ready for the heart-stopping penalty shootout. With 59,000 fans at Al Bayt Stadium screaming, Uzbekistan’s Rustam Ashurmatov and Qatar’s 2019 top scorer Almoez Ali failed to score from their spot kicks.Qatar’s Al-Mahdi Ali Mukhtar skied his penalty but young Barsham - brother of track and field superstar Mutaz Barshim - stopped three penalties to make it a memorable night for the home side. Defender Miguel did the rest by converting the fifth and final penalty.Semi-finals line-upSouth Korea vs Jordanon Tuesday, 6pm at Ahmad Bin Ali StadiumQatar vs Iranon Wednesday, 6pm at Al Thumama Stadium
Coach Marquez Lopez on Friday said defending champions Qatar will be looking to play an attacking game against Central Asian giants Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 on Saturday.Under Marquez, Qatar are on a four-match unbeaten streak that has taken the 2019 champions into the quarter-finals against a side that beat Thailand 2-1 in the Round of 16 clash three days ago.Qatar’s chief striker Akram Afif has scored four goals in as many matches while his captain Hasan al-Haydos has netted two to inspire confidence in coach Lopez going into Saturday’s clash at Al Bayt Stadium. Al Annabi have scored wins against Lebanon, China, Tajikistan and Palestine.“We have talented players and we have fast players, possibly the fastest players in the competition,” Lopez warned at a pre-match news conference on Friday.“The quality of the players and the performance of the team mean we have made it to the quarter-final,” Lopez, who is less than two months into his Qatar job, added.The 59-year-old Spaniard quickly said he expects a physical clash between the two sides.“This is going to be a very physical game,” Lopez said. “I know the players of the Uzbekistan team very well as I previously faced some of their players in the AFC Champions League matches when I was coach of Al Wakrah,” he added.“I am well aware of the quality of these players and their skills. The most important thing is that we will focus on our strengths and try to win the match,” he added.“The Uzbek players have skill, quality and speed, and like I said it will be a physical match. But my players are physically prepared, especially since I rotated them during the group stage in order to give everyone the opportunity to play and compete in the tournament,” he said.“We have reached what we are looking for, we’re in the quarter-finals and if anyone thinks we can’t make it to the final that is up to them,” the Spaniard said.“There’s no negative pressure on the players, they are well motivated. They want to win. There’s going to be positive pressure for us to achieve in this very difficult game,” he said.Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec also sounded confident going into the last-eight clash. The Central Asians are looking to progress to the semi-finals for the first time since the 2011 edition also held in Qatar.Thirteen years ago, Uzbekistan beat Qatar in the opening game of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup before being knocked out by Australia in the semi-finals.“My job is to prepare the team as best I can. We are together for two-and-a-half years and if they don’t know how to play now it will be wrong, but I’m confident they know. They know we have to be organised,” Katanec, who is from Slovenia, said on Friday.“All coaches are smarter when we win, but we depend on the players, on their qualities and the game tomorrow is starting from 6:30 for two hours and they have to be in good shape.“We have reached a nice position, we didn’t lose, we have conceded less goals so they have to worry, like we have to be worried.“When we started this Asian Cup I said I know the situation, that we go game by game,” Katanec said. “Tomorrow is another game. We did well, but it was what it was, so we will try to do our best.“We are good. I have a nice group of players. They have to be confident, we reached (the quarter-finals) and tomorrow, it’s the game. So go ahead. We have nothing to lose, give everything and I’ll be satisfied with the team,” the 60-year-old added.
Defending champions Qatar on Monday rallied for a 2-1 win against Palestine after a first-half stutter to reach the quarter-finals at AFC Asian Cup 2023.Playing at a packed Al Bayt Stadium, Qatar conceded a goal in the 37th minute when Oday Dabbagh found the net to put the Palestinians ahead.Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos produced the equaliser in injury time following a corner kick. Qatar’s mercurial striker Akram Afif converted a penalty in the 49th minute – driving to the right of Palestinian goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh – as the home team took the lead in the feisty contest.It was Qatar’s 11th win on the trot following their seven in the 2019 edition they won in the UAE. For Afif, the Al Sadd stalwart, it was his fourth goal of the tournament scored in front of 65,000 fans at tent-like Al Bayt Stadium.Qatar enjoyed greater ball possession (60-40) while sentimental favourites Palestine fired 11 shots on the Qatari goal, two more than the home side coached by Marquez Lopez from Spain. Palestine landed five shots on target whereas Qatar had three.In the quarter-finals, Al Anabbi will take on the winner from the clash between Uzbekistan and Thailand on Tuesday. Qatar will return to Al Bayt Stadium in the quarter-final. For Palestine, ranked 99 in the world, it was a memorable event in which they scored six goals in four matches with three coming against Hong Kong last week. Prior to last night’s clash, Palestine had only scored just one goal across six AFC Asian Cup matches in 2015 and 2019.“It was a game against Palestine and it was emotional. With all my respect I understand our fans (cheering for Palestine),” Lopez told reporters on Monday. “This is football, you can plan for something and it doesn’t always go to plan. Palestine’s players played very well, they were brave. The most important thing is we qualified (for the next round) and we have to retain our positivity for the future.”Palestine coach Makram Daboub said after the match: “My players gave all that they have despite the difficult circumstances. I cannot ask them to do more than what they’ve done. I’m very proud of my champions. They have big ambition and they’re proud to represent the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people are very passionate. We wanted to make them happy but we’re sorry we couldn’t. We hope to be better in our next games and compensate for today’s loss.”Following a cagey start, Qatar keeper Meshaal – younger sibling of global track and field star Mutaz Barshim – managed a diving stop on a long-range missile from Palestine’s Amid Mahajna in the 19th minute.A few minutes later, Barsham thwarted another Palestinian threat when Abu Warda, ghosting down the left, met Zeid Qunbar’s pass with a deft touch, but the resilient Qatari shot-stopper was equal to the task.Frustrated by Barsham’s brilliant saves for Qatar, Palestine’s Dabbagh decided to take matters into his own hands. In a moment of pure magic, he embarked on a solo run, weaving past two befuddled Qatari defenders. With laser focus, he drilled a shot towards the bottom corner, finding the net with ease. His third AFC Asian Cup goal delighted the Palestinian fans just eight minutes before halftime.It was also the first goal conceded by Qatar in this tournament featuring Asia’s finest 24 teams.In a heart-stopping finale to the first half, Afif and al-Haydos put together a magical move. Afif whipped a low delivery across the box, finding al-Haydos in trademark fashion. The Qatari captain’s first-time strike deflected off Musab al-Battat and nestled into the net, silencing the Palestinian cheers and restoring parity just as the whistle blew.Minutes into the second half, Afif slipped in a low cross to Almoez Ali but Palestine defender Mohamed Saleh produced a rough sliding tackle on the Qatari resulting in a penalty. Afif calmly slotted home as Qatar took the lead 12 minutes after conceding the first goal.Afif nearly put Qatar ahead late in the second half, bending a 20-yard free-kick over the wall and agonizingly grazing the crossbar to the relief of thousands of Palestine fans.Monday’s clash saw fan turnout after 40 matches reach 1,068,587 spectators, a record tally that exceeded the number of ticket holders at the 2004 edition held in China.
Buoyed by a commanding performance in their opening match, defending champions Qatar will be looking to consolidate their chances to reach last 16 of the AFC Asian Cup when they face Tajikistan on Wednesday. Champions in 2019 at the tournament held in the UAE, Qatar beat Lebanon 3-0 in their first match on Friday in front of 82,490 fans at Lusail Stadium. That win was Qatar’s eighth on the trot following their seven impressive wins at Asia’s premier tournament four years ago when Al Annabi beat Japan in the final to become the continental champions. Should Qatar win against Tajikistan, and China-Lebanon tie end in a draw in day’s other match - the hosts will be assured of topping Group A. Qatar coach, Marquez Lopez, on Tuesday said his team will be looking for three more points at Al Bayt Stadium. “We’re going to enter this match in order to achieve a victory,” Lopez said at a pre-match press conference with his young goalkeeper Meshaal Barshim in attendance. “They are a difficult opponent but we have studied them and we know that they have speedy players who can hurt us,” the Spaniard - who was roped in only last month - said. “From the first day I’ve said that we have to take it one match at a time, we want to lead and we want to go to the second round, that objective hasn’t changed. We have to use all the tools we have to score as early as possible but the most important thing is to be prepared and ready for the match,” Lopez said. “Of course we all think about the games to come in the next round but we have to focus first on the next game first. If we win, it’s possible that we win the group then we’ll see who we might get in the next round.” Lopez will be hoping his chief strikers Akram Afif and Almoez Ali on Wednesday exhibit the promising form they used to deflate Lebanon. Afif scored twice while Almoez found the net once in the second half against Lebanon. Though Group A toppers Qatar appear poised for a repeat victory, they’ll remember Tajikistan’s surprise 2-1 win in their 2012 friendly, keeping the underdog Tajiks in the hunt. Lifted by their spirited draw against China on Saturday, Tajikistan plan to carry their offensive fire to the second round against Qatar on Wednesday. Head coach Petar Segrt, impressed by their gritty performance, on Tuesday expressed confidence in another audacious showing from his Central Asian underdogs. “We respect Qatar as the champions and great hosts but for at least 90 minutes tomorrow, we must put that aside,” Segrt said on Tuesday. “We will try to achieve a good result and make a good impression, to try to get one or three points,” the 57-year-old Croatian added. “We cannot go into a game to get one point, we will try our best. More important is how we behave and how we play our football. It’s not the character of the Tajikistan people to play defensive. So we will try to play our football but we must also respect that Qatar are stronger than China and they will also have their supporters behind them.” Tajikistan, the lone tournament newcomers, are riding high on the wave of confidence after snatching a draw against China, proving their debutant status no handicap. “Before we went into the first game, the players were thinking that they are happy to be here but after the performance we showed, they are now starting to think that they have a chance,” Segrt said. “We had dreams two years ago to come to the Asian Cup, now we have a new dream, now we want to have the first goal in the Asian Cup.” Facts & Figures Tajikistan vs Qatar at Al bayt Stadium, 5:30pm Head to head Tajikistan won 2-1 in their most recent men’s international fixture against Qatar (September 2012) and are set to face them at the AFC Asian Cup for the first time. Unlucky debut Tajikistan settled for a 0-0 draw with China in their first game at the Asian Cup despite making 20 shots at goal on the day, the most of any Group A team on Matchday One. Impressive run Qatar have won their last eight consecutive games at the Asian Cup, including a 3-0 win over Lebanon on Matchday 1 of the 2023 tournament; only once in AFC Asian Cup history has any team enjoyed a longer winning streak (Iran – 13 games from 1968 to 1976). Tough tackler Alisher Shukurov (Tajikistan) won possession 11 times throughout the match against China, the most of any player from Group A in the tournament and two more than Lebanon’s Alexander Melki (9). Mercurial Afif Qatar’s Akram Afif has been directly involved in nine goals in his last four games in the Asian Cup (3 goals, 6 assists) including at least two in each of his last three and two goals against Lebanon last Friday at Al Bayt Stadium.
Continental giants Saudi Arabia will launch their AFC Asian Cup campaign with a game against Oman but the Roberto Mancini-coached side is grappling with shock player exclusions resulting in an uneasy dressing room environment. One of the favourites to win the tournament, Saudi Arabia have arrived at Asia’s biggest footfall event under a cloud of uncertainty for the clash at the Khalifa International Stadium today. Mancini, who was roped in as the Saudi coach last year with much fanfare, on Monday sounded perturbed when asked about the late exclusions of three players - goalkeeper Nawaf al-Aqidi, midfielder Salman al-Faraj and full-back Sultan al-Ghannam. “I think you have to ask them (the three players) because all these players didn’t want to come with the national side. They decided, not me,” Mancini said at the pre-match press conference on Monday. “They were in the list. Salman, who was in the training camp, said he doesn’t want to come for a friendly game. I don’t think players can decide when or when not to play. Sultan and Nawaf, I spoke with both and I asked if they were happy to join the list. Sultan told me he was not happy. “Players can’t decide this. I decide. Nawaf told me he will come. After three days, he said he doesn’t want to come. We put them in the list. They were in the training camp.I only want players who want to fight for country. “I don’t understand when a young player refuses to come because he doesn’t know if he will play or not. The national team is not a club, it’s your country. You represent all the people in your country,” Mancini said. Mancini, a seasoned manager with club silverware and an international triumph (Italy’s Euro 2021) under his belt, expressed shock at the unprecedented phenomenon of players turning down national team duties. “You should be happy if you’re a part of this group. This is a very strange situation and it’s the first time I’ve experienced this. But we’ve found other players to play,” the former Manchester City coach thundered. While the Saudi team that shocked Argentina in the 2022 World Cup boasts veteran experience, their Asian Cup squad looks significantly younger. Notably, even Oman’s players possess more international caps, raising questions about whether Saudi Arabia’s youthful side can replicate the magic that once stunned football giants. “We had these two weeks to work with the players. We know all players from Oman play regularly in the league and they’re probably stronger,” Mancini, 59, said. “But we’re happy with the players we have, they want to fight for their country. Oman have good strikers and midfielders, they’re very dangerous in attack. For this reason tomorrow will be a difficult game,” Mancini said.“My opinion is that Oman is a very good team. The first game (of a tournament) is always very difficult. We know we are a good side but this is a very important tournament for us. There are top national teams. We want to do our best job,” the Italian added. Oman forward Harib al-Saadi said on Monday: “I would like to thank Qatar for the hospitality. We are excited to play at the Asian Cup, and the players want to take the responsibility and represent the name of Oman in the best possible way.” He added: “Everyone knows the name of Saudi Arabia and their level in Asian football. In both games we played against them, we put in a good performance both in Oman and in Jeddah. Players change for sure, but Saudi Arabia remain one of the strongest teams in the continent.” Al-Saadi said: “We focus on Saudi Arabia as a team, not individuals. Just like us, it is about the group together, and if we are all united, we can be superior as a team and get the result we want.” Today’s match - the first head-to-head clash between the two sides - kicks off at 8:30pm.
Defending champions Qatar Friday launched their AFC Asian Cup 2023 campaign on a winning note with a crushing 3-0 win over Lebanon at the iconic Lusail Stadium.Striker Akram Afif managed a double (45 and 90+6) while Al Duhail forward Almoez Ali found the net in the 56th minute to give the 2019 champions three points from the Group A clash watched by 82,490 fans.With Friday's second-half strike, Almoez - the MVP from Qatar's victorious 2019 campaign in the UAE - has now 10 goals in AFC Asian Cup history.It was Qatar's seventh win over Lebanon in eight fixtures while it was the eighth successive win for the defending champions following their seven on the trot at the 2019 edition. Four years ago, Qatar also beat Lebanon in their opening game.From the start, Qatar - ranked 58 in the world - exhibited good intent though their finishing lacked bite.In the second minute of the Group A clash, Afif found Abdulaziz Hatem with a cross to the left but the midfielder was slow to react in the first attack on the Lebanon box. A minute later, Qatar captain Hasan Al Haydos deflected a shot to Afif who - despite being in the box - couldn't find space to aim at the goal.In the sixth minute, Qatar seemingly opened the scoring but the goal was disallowed as off-side. Almoez, despite being marked by defender Nour Mansour, charged into the box and slipped the ball past keeper Mostafa Ali Matar - after Hatem sent a through ball - but the move was flagged off-side. A VAR ruling seconds later upheld the linesman's decision.Lebanon, probably playing in front of the biggest crowd in their football history, managed a corner in the 10th minute. Qatar's Lucas Mendedes headed away a loopy corner kick ahead of Lebanon's Walid Adel Shour.Shortly afterwards Almoez jumped high to head a ball in teammate Yousuf Abdurisag's direction near the edge of the Lebanon box. Abdulrisag fired a long-range shot which was off target in the 12th minute. Lebanon defender Hussein Ali Zein managed to get near the Qatar box but his low shot - under pressure from Mendes - lacked power a minute later.At the 20-minute mark, Afif curled in a free-kick but Almahdi Ali's snap-header was cleaned up by keeper Mataar. Moments later, Lebanon's Shour went long-range with his shot but he was found wanting on the angle as the ball dribbled away from the Qatar net. Zein wasted a golden opportunity in the 25th minute when he found time and space to execute a powerful shot but his bullet was saved by keeper Meshal Barsham, brother of track and field star Mutaz.Soon after the half-hour mark, Afif found slick header but the shot hit the Lebanon crossbar following a cross from Abdurisag, Qatar let go another chance soon afterward to find the net when Hatem - on a cross from Afif lurking inside the Lebanon box - saw his shot blocked by a defender Zein.At the 45-minute mark, Afif produced a well-timed shot from inside the Lebanon box to score his team's much-wanted opening goal following a series of attacks that lacked finish. In a moment of defensive amnesia, Lebanon allowed Mohamed Waad's cross to fester in the box.Almoez, alert and predatory, pounced on the confusion, feeding the ball flawlessly to Afif. With goalkeeper Matar rooted to the spot, Afif calmly slotted home, etching his name onto the scoreboard and punishing Lebanon's lapse in concentration at Lusail Stadium where a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina beat France on penalties in the FIFA World Cup final a little over a year ago.Galvanized by the halftime break, Lebanon launched into the second half with a flurry of intent. Bassel Jradi, Lebanon's talisman, unleashed a thunderbolt from just outside the box in the 47th minute only for Qatari defender Pedro Miguel to deflect the effort over the bar. The missed opportunity was a microcosm of Lebanon's frustrations, highlighting their resilience while showcasing Qatar's defensive steel.Qatar doubled their lead in the 56th minute when Almoez headed home after a cross from Waad on the left. Afif, who clearly was a busy striker for Qatar, scored his second of the night with a late goal in injury time.Qatar will look to another impressive show on Jan 17 when they face Tajikistan. Lebanon will take on China PR the same day.
Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic on Thursday said his young side will aim for an upset today against defending champions Qatar when the two sides meet in the opening match of the AFC Asian Cup at Lusail Stadium.Winless in seven internationals against Qatar, the Lebanon coach said his side has arrived in Doha with a deep desire to impress football fans. “We will try to get a positive result. I will tell them to play for three points, nothing else. We have trained well but we need to show our big potential. I hope our young players will show their talent. We will fight for each point to go to the next round. I believe we have the potential (to win),” Radulovic said at a pre-match conference.“I am optimistic that we can play equally well with every side in this group,” the 56-year-old said. Ranked 107 in the FIFA rankings, Lebanon will play against China (Jan 17 and Tajikistan (Jan 22) after today’s clash. “In this group of players, I have a lot of young players along with experienced names. Two recent matches show our system is working. The playing atmosphere is good. There are a few injuries and that’s the only concern we have,” he added.“We very excited to be here because we will participate for the second time in such a big competition like the Asian Cup. We will try to show all our capabilities. I believe in my team. It was a short time for preparation. I know the teams in this group very well. We will try to do our best,” he said.A few days after his resignation as coach of Montenegro, Radulovic was re-appointed coach of Lebanon last month following the departure of Nikola Jurcevic. In a friendly against Saudi Arabia last week, Lebanon looked organised in the 1-0 defeat. Radulovic, who coached Lebanon at the 2019 Asian Cup, on Thursday praised Qatar’s rise in Asia.“I feel the Qatar team - personally speaking - are looking good. They are one of the favourites to win the tournament. We are playing the defending champions. I appreciate their results in recent years. Qatar are one of those sides I admire. I am sure the fans would enjoy the game. We will try to use our experience from the last competition. These days we have been busy trying to rectify our mistakes,” Radulovic said.“There is big motivation for everyone. Every player who trains wants to play a big tournament like this. Like I told you we have a fine blend of young and experienced players. Tomorrow we should be well prepared psychologically. There will be 88,000 fans. I will be trying to calm the players,” he added.“China and Tajikistan and their results have been up also. All the games will be interesting and difficult. There’s no time to make mistakes. But then this is also a big challenge for us to show our potential. This will also help us for the future. Our main target (from this tournament) is to get experience for future matches.“I came back to Lebanon after five years. I have good memories about Lebanese players and people. I believe we can repeat our good results from the past. We have a group of young players who have great energy. Now we are strong as a group,” he added.For captain Hassan Maatouk, the tournament represents an opportunity to create history for Lebanese football - a place in the knockout stage for the first time in their history. Maatouk sees the return of Radulovic as head coach a huge positive and is counting on the Montenegrin’s familiarity with the players to give Lebanon an edge in the tournament.
Qatar Basketball Federation (QBF) on Tuesday unveiled Athanasios Skourtopoulos of Greece as the new coach who will groom the national side until the 2027 FIBA World Cup to be held in Doha.The new coach was presented in front of the media at the QBF headquarters on Tuesday in Al Gharrafa where the vastly experienced coach also met with the national team players.Coach Skourtopoulos said he was ready for the ‘exciting challenge’ as he commences his new assignment.“I came here just five days ago. I am very happy to be here. I have met the national team players and I have got a good vibe after meeting with them. I have also met with the junior players. The Qatar Basketball Federation officials have welcomed me with open arms. I am delighted to be the new coach of the Qatar national team,” Skourtopoulos said at his first media briefing on Tuesday.“It didn’t take me too long to make the decision. I have been following QBF league action. I know the players who appear in the league. I had a lot of information before coming here,” he said.“I know how to build a good team. We will have to go step-by-step and have the help of everybody at the federation and the players. When this happens, success will follow. The players have told me their situation and what they want to achieve. It has not come as a surprise that everybody involved with basketball wants to do well collectively. So, yes, it was easy to decide to be here,” he added.“We say welcome to our new coach Athanasios Skourtopoulos. We are excited to team up with him as we begin our exciting journey to FIBA World Cup 2027 to be held in Doha. We have many key tournaments that we are looking at in this four-year journey that we have ahead of us,” QBF secretary-general Saadoun Sabah al-Kuwari said on Tuesday. He was joined by Yaseen Ismail Musa, Director of National Teams. “We start with two friendly tournaments in the next month or so and that will be followed by the Asian Games in Guangzhou in China. Then there is the FIBA Asian Championship in 2025 followed by the 2026 Asian Games. In between we will also have many tournaments in the region and the continent that we aspire to do well when we take part in those championships,” al-Kuwari added.Skourtopoulos said on Tuesday: “I have told the players that this is a important journey in this country. With the FIBA World Cup coming here in four years, there will be huge opportunities for the players - senior and junior - to raise their game. It is a very exciting time for Qatar basketball.”He added: “There is a lot of work to do. I know that in recent years the national team’s performance dipped a little after a very productive phase earlier on. But I know there are many exciting young players who will need good grooming for bigger assignments.”Skourtopoulos said Qatar’s first assignment starts in Taiwan where they will take part in the Jones Cup (organised by the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association).This year’s event will be held from Aug 12-20 with the participation of nine teams. After this, the Qatar side will feature at the Atlas Basketball Challenge in China before they arrive in Guangzhou for the 2022 Asian Games in late September.Ismail Musa, the Director of National Teams, on Tuesday said: “The decision of QBF president Mohamed bin Saad al-Mughisib in getting a new coach for the Qatar national team is a good move. Athanasios Skourtopoulos is a coach with a lot of experience. The Qatar players stand to gain a lot under his coaching. He is considered one of the finest basketball coaches. Our target is to have a good bench strength at the junior level that can be of great assistance to build a solid senior side in the future. The federation’s plan is to form a competitive team for many years to come.”New fitness coach Nataniel David Lucas was also presented at the press conference on Tuesday.
Doha: The president of Qatar Basketball Federation (QBF) Mohamed Saad al-Mughaiseeb on Tuesday said Qatar will deliver a memorable edition of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2027 with all games set to be held across four venues in Doha.He said this following an inspection visit of Qatar facilities by FIBA headed by president Hamane Niang and secretary-general Andreas Zagklis.“We have had many meetings and discussions with the FIBA delegation. Qatar is confident it will to host an exceptional FIBA event, the first one of its kind in this region,” al-Mughaiseeb said yesterday at the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic Sports Museum.Al-Mughaiseeb said there are talks with FIBA to organise more than one event in Qatar during the next four years using ambassadors accredited by the world body to promote the championship. He added there are plans to organize a series of events that will include international players.The QBF president said four venues will be used to host the FIBA World Cup. Lusail Multipurpose Hall (14,000 seats), Al Duhail Indoor Hall (7,000 seats), Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena (7,000 seats), and the Aspire Dome.He said visiting teams will be accorded training facilities around many sports stadiums across the country. The president noted there is a plan to have an additional stadium that will be determined later.He announced that the QBF will organise, starting this year, a number of activities through which it will promote hosting the FIBA World Cup 2027. He said many women’s activities have also been planned.Al-Mughaiseeb said that the most important feature that will distinguish the FIBA World Cup in Qatar is the presence of state-of-the-art sports facilities and infrastructure.“The Basketball World Cup is not just a three-week tournament,” said Fahd Juma, Director of Strategy and Projects Department at the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC). “It is a tournament that has already started since the moment Qatar won the rights to host it.“Qatar has already made significant investments in infrastructure, including the construction of new stadiums and training facilities. The country is also committed to sustainability, and plans to use renewable energy and other measures to reduce the tournament’s environmental impact.“We want to present an exceptional and sustainable version of the World Cup that conforms to all international standards,” said Juma.In addition to sustainability, Qatar is also focused on creating an iconic event. Officials are working to attract top talent from around the world, and they plan to host a number of events and activities to celebrate the tournament.
The stage is set for the start of the ISSF Shotgun World Cup at Lusail Shooting Range, a top official said on Thursday.More than 466 shooters from 63 countries are going to feature in the March 3 to 13 World Cup, according to Jassim Shaheen al-Sulaiti, the Deputy Director of the championship.Technical Director Abdullah al-Hammadi was also present at a press conference called in to share details of the high profile championship.“We have confirmed entries of 466 shooters from 63 countries,” al-Sulaiti told the media on Thursday.“We also have five Qatari shooters in each of the skeet and trap competitions in men’s and women’s classes,” al-Sulaiti added.“Our Lusail Shooting Range is ready to host this World Cup edition. We’ve been preparing for it for the last three months. We hosted the 11th edition of the Qatar Open Shotgun Championship 2023 a few weeks ago as a preparation event to see how ready we are for this competition. We remain confident that we can deliver a good competition and make everyone proud,” he said.“The expectation of Qatari shooters in and outside of the country is always to be on the podium, especially since we have just won a silver medal a week ago at the Asian Championship.“One of our top shooters, Rashid al-athba, has already qualified for the Paris Olympics, already. He also finished third in the World Championship a few months ago,” al-Sulaiti said.“We have another shooter who got fourth in the World Championship. Qatar’s shooters are always on the podium or close to the podium. So when we have an event at home, we always hope to get the best result possible,” he added.Al-Sulaiti said Qatari shooters are keeping a busy schedule for the last two months with have more events lined up in build-up to the Asian Games in September.“Qatari shooters actually have a very heavy schedule for last month or so,” al-Sulaiti said yesterday. “They played in three events in the last two months.“So we are getting ready, of course, for the Asian Games and for the Olympics next year in Paris. This year’s Asian Games (to be held in China) is a very important competition for Qatar.“It’s the Olympics of Asia (smiles). The shooters are already gearing up for the big event in the next 12 months,” he added.“The World Cup is one of 12 World Cup editions staged throughout the year and around the globe (11 countries). So obviously, there is the final World Cup which is held in December every year. Usually in a competition like this, they take all the gold medal winners from each World Cup edition held during the season to play in the final.“This World Cup doesn’t have a qualification round to the Olympic Games, but it can give the player rating points so he or she could win qualification to the Olympics by points. We are expecting a great championship with shooters aiming for medals and points,” al-Sulaiti said.Al-Sulaiti said the 10-day championship will have a global audience“Yes, the ISF, which is the International Federation of Shooting, they already have a media department that will come and cover the championship and stream on their website and on YouTube channel. They will stream live the whole competition up to the finals,” al-Sulaiti said. “And of course, Qatar’s Al Kass Sports Channel is going to broadcast the championship as a host broadcaster,” he said.
Red-hot Daniil Medvedev of Russia yesterday made his Doha debut a memorable one as he beat two-time champion and crowd favourite Andy Murray of Great Britain in the final of the $1.4mn Qatar ExxonMobil Open.Medvedev, who landed in Doha after clinching the ATP 500 Rotterdam crown last Sunday, yesterday won 6-4, 6-4 for his 17th career title win. It was his third win over Murray in as many matches and 14th this season.The 27-year-old from Moscow got richer by $209,445 and picked up 250 points.Murray won $122,175 and bagged 150 points. Medvedev, who spent 16 weeks as World No. 1 in 2022, yesterday fired six aces in his impressive win in windy conditions. Murray, the only five-time finalist in Doha, yesterday failed to add to his title wins in 2008 and 2009.“A very tough match. I think (it) was a little bit more windy today. Both of us were struggling to find the rhythm on the second serve,” Medvedev said. “It was a big fight where both of us were playing badly, then suddenly both of us were playing amazing but I’m happy to win,” he added. “I managed to find this momentum in Rotterdam. The first two matches I played there were tough. I didn’t feel good before the tournament and then starting from quarters against Felix, I started to find my rhythm. I started to play really good, serving better, moving better. You know, even today, it was tough for Andy, too, to put the ball through me many times. And now the question is if (the winning form) has to continue. I’m going to try as long as I can,” he said.Murray was generous in his praise for Medvedev.“It was an incredible week. Obviously I didn’t finish how I wanted. I had some amazing matches here, created some great memories and fantastic to be back in a final year again and against an incredible player,” Murray said.“Daniel is one of my favourite players to watch and one of the best players on the Tour. So yes, great for me to get that opportunity to play against someone of his level and in a final again.“Definitely some things for me to work on but I’m proud of my week and the work that me and my team have put in to get me back to this stage,” Murray said.“All the players in this event have done a great job and put on some brilliant matches. I just think because of the way some of my matches finished that social media likes that sort of thing which creates a lot of attraction and attention. But it was an incredible atmosphere this evening. It’s so nice to see this place full,” he added.A long return from Murray on the first point of the final was followed by two unforced errors from the Briton. A solid ace, a drop shot and an unforced error from Medvedev allowed Murray to go to deuce when the Russian opened up the court with a backhand drive from close to the net. That point gave the Russian advantage which was easily converted into a service break in eight minutes.Medvedev, the 2021 US Open champion, easily held serve to go to a 2-0 lead. Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion, found pace on his serves to take game three to reduce the deficit at 1-2 but Medvedev held serve following a deuce battle in game four (3-1). A couple of clumsy unforced errors by Murray allowed Medvedev to break Murray in game five for a 4-1 lead.The 35-year-old Briton fought back in style to break the Russian in game six and followed it up by holding serve in game seven (4-3). Medvedev saved a breakpoint to take game eight (5-3). A slick dropshot from close to the net helped Murray draw closer to Medvedev (4-5). Medvedev, with two service breaks, closed the first set at 6-4 in 54 minutes.The champion in Rotterdam last week quickly broke Murray in game one of the second set. A couple of minutes later, the Russian was 2-0 up after a clumsy volley from Murray hit the net. In game three, Murray wasted a breakpoint as Medvedev steamed ahead at 3-1 by holding his serve but Murray broke Medvedev in game six to draw level at 3-all.Murray produced strong serves to go 4-3 up for the first time in the match. The turning point of the game, however, came when Murray served at 40-0 in game nine. Medvedev reeled off five consecutive points to break the Briton and take a 5-4 lead. Minutes later, an overhead lob handed Medvedev his 17th career title win as the Russian closed out the second set at 6-4.
It was nothing short of a miracle. Staring at defeat in the third set, crowd favourite Andy Murray of Great Britain saved five match points to beat rising star Jiri Lehecka for a place in the final of the $1.4mn Qatar ExxonMobil Open.Today’s final will be Murray’s fifth in Doha after the 35-year-old yesterday won 6-0, 3-6, 7-6 (6) in 2 hours and 29 minutes.Murray, the Doha champion in 2008 and 2009, will be aiming to complete a hat-trick of Qatar titles today. Roger Federer (2005, 2006, 2011) is the only player with three title wins in Qatar.Today he will meet third seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia who yesterday beat second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 6-4, 7-6 (7) in 1 hour and 56 minutes.Murray has 24 wins in Doha, one more than Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils. He lost two finals – 2007 and 2017 against Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic and current World No.1 Novak Djokovic respectively.Murray was delighted after his thrilling win over Lehecka, who is just 21 years of age.“That was one of the most amazing turnarounds I’ve had in my career,” Murray said. “He had the three match points at 5-4. I knew it was his first time maybe serving for a final. So I had to make sure that I tried to keep the pressure on at the end because I know how difficult it is to serve matches like that out. But I have no idea how I managed to turn that one round, to be honest,” he added.Reaching his fifth final in Doha seemed to have delighted Murray.“It’s an accomplishment. Yeah,” Murray said. “This tournament over the years has had many great players playing. Federer played a lot, and guys like Roddick, Nadal and Novak’s played here many times. Those guys have obviously achieved a lot more than me. But this is one small win that I maybe can have over them. I’ll enjoy this evening and hopefully put on a good performance tomorrow,” Murray said with a smile.“I feel all right just now. I mean, obviously the adrenaline’s pumping after a match like that. I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of fatigue, but I’ve got a great team behind me. Phil Hayward, my physio. Fantastic, fantastic man. And yeah, he’s got a job on his hands tonight to put me back together again for tomorrow,” he added.At third deuce, an unforced error by Lehecka followed by a wide return gave Murray the first break in game one that lasted six minutes. In game two, an exquisite drop shot followed by an overhead lob gave Lehecka a 30-love cushion. A double fault by Murray on his serve made it 40-0 for Lehecka but the British tennis icon reeled off five consecutive points to go 2-0 in 14 minutes.Murray broke Lehecka for the second time to race to a 3-0 cushion in game three for an ideal start to the match. Leading 30-0 in game four, Murray produced a blistering serve to go 40-0 and seconds later an ace saw him grab a 4-0 lead. An unforced error followed by a wide return from the baseline by Lehecka at deuce gave a Murray 5-0 lead. An unforced error by Lehecka gave Murray the first set in 32 minutes.An error-prone Lehecka won only 37 percent of his first serves while in contrast Murray stood at 82 percent as the Briton just shut down his young Czech opponent with ease.At 30-all in game two of the second set and with Murray serving, Lehecka produced a sublime backhand down the line before breaking the Briton for a 2-0 lead. Lehecka found his feet to take a 3-0 lead in the second set. Murray stemmed the flow by reducing the deficit at 3-1 in game four. With better momentum than he had in the first set, Lehecka quickly closed out the second at 6-3.In the third set, the two players held their serves in the first two games but in the third game Murray was broken by a resolute Lehecka who put pressure on his seasoned rival from the baseline. Murray returned the compliment by breaking Lehecka in game four to draw level at 2-all but Lehecka broke the Briton again in game five. Murray saved three match points as a wayward Lehecka fired three wide returns in game nine. Down three match points, Murray reeled off five consecutive points on Lehecka’s serve in game 10 to draw level at 5-all.In the ensuing tie-breaker, Murray jumped to a 3-1 lead but then the two battled for points until they reached 5-all. Murray unleashed a backhand that Lehecka smashed into the net to go 6-5 ahead and then fired an ace to arrive at match point.A long return from Lehecka was game, set and match for Murray who roared in front of his box where mother Judy jumped from her seat to celebrate her son’s fighting win.Medvedev after winning his semi-final said he feels good playing in Doha.“Today and yesterday, the matches were super close and yeah, confidence matters because he had two set points. I managed to just stay in there and it was enough to win. It was very high level match for two sets,” Medvedev said.QTF discussing upgrading QEMO to ATP 500 SeriesDoha: The Qatar Tennis, Squash and Badminton Federation (QTSBF) revealed that it is preparing a plan to upgrade the Qatar ExxonMobil Open Tennis Championship from the ATP 250 series to ATP 500 series.Qatar Tennis Federation (QTF) secretary-general Tariq Zeinal confirmed in press statement that the General Assembly of QTF, chaired by Nasser bin Ghanim al-Khelaifi, discussed upgrading the championship from the ATP 250 to ATP 500, due to the great importance of the Qatar tournament and its distinction among all the championships of the same category.Zainal added that the tournament participants, including officials from the Professional Tennis Players Association and players, assured the organising committee that the Qatar event would be chosen as the best tournament in its category for the sixth year in a row.QTF secretary-general revealed that the General Assembly discussed the issue of merging the Padel under the QTSBF umbrella pointing out that the construction of six Padel courts in the vicinity of the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex has been completed and equipped in preparation for the tournament that will be hosted by the federation after the completion of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open championship.Zainal explained that the meeting discussed a number of issues to develop tennis, in addition to emphasising the strategy that was put in place to develop the game by organising many local, Asian and international tournaments, and discussing developing Qatari players and providing them with more support through setting up camps and participating in Asian and international tournaments.
Rising star Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic scored the biggest win of his career on Thursday as he sent top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia packing in three sets to reach the semi-finals of the $1.5mn Qatar ExxonMobil Open.Lehecka, just 21, rallied from a set down to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 against Rublev, the World No.5. It was Lehecka’s first win over a top-5 player and his 11th in the new season.Lehecka now plays former champion Andy Murray of Great Britain in the semi-final today. Murray, the 2008 and 2009 champion in Doha, Thursday delivered another fighting performance to beat French qualifier Alexandre Muller in three sets.After a slow start in the first set that was clinched by Muller, Murray switched on his attack mode to seal the deal in the next two for his 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 win in 2 hours and 3 minutes. Murray, now 23-4 in Doha, fired 9 aces in the thrilling centre court clash.In the day’s other quarter-final, third seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia braved a tough challenge from Christopher O’Connell of Australia to reach the semi-finals in his maiden Doha appearance. Medvedev won 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in 1 hours and 58 minutes.Last month, Lehecka beat World No. 7 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada for the biggest win of career and to reach the 2023 Australian Open quarter-finals. Thursday, the promising Czech looked the part as he unraveled Rublev’s strong all-court coverage for his biggest win yet.“Yeah, it sounds great,” Lehecka said when reminded of his win over Auger-Aliassime in Melbourne. “Honestly, these two weeks and these two months are very, very great for me. I am very happy that I got a chance to play here. I was very much looking forward to playing here in Doha on this beautiful centre court. So yeah, I’m very happy with the win and I am looking forward to tomorrow,” he added.Lehecka said he has improved the mental side of his game to come through a tough week in Qatar“I improved everything, but mostly my mentality. On the court I gained some confidence at the Next Gen finals and then I just learned how to use it and. I just feel great on this court with these balls. It’s an incredible atmosphere over here. I am really looking forward to another match. I am very happy that I had a chance to play here,” Lehecka said.Murray, who has also lost two finals in Doha besides winning a couple of trophies, said he had to make quick changes in his game after losing the first set at 4-6.“I had to start going for my shots a lot more. In the first set, I wasn’t doing enough with the ball and he was dictating a lot of the points, making me do a lot of running. And like you say, I’ve obviously played a lot of tennis the last few days, and that wasn’t going to give me the best chance to win the match. I stepped up. I started taking a few more chances, trying to come to the net when I got the opportunity and managed to turn it around,” Murray said.The three-time Grand Slam champion praised Muller for his performance in Doha.“He had an excellent tournament coming through qualifying. He’s had some good wins over the years. I saw last year he beat (Richard) Gasquet and he beat Tsonga too. I knew it was going to be a tough match. He plays very well, hopefully with more experience, you know, playing at this level, he’ll be back here more often in the future, but he plays very well,” Murray said.After 18 years on the ATP Tour, Murray on Thursday surprised fans by answering whom he beat in his first Tour level quarter-final.“I remember. Let me, let me think,” Murray said with a smile. “I’m going to say my first tour level quarterfinal was in Bangkok. Is that right?”, Murray asked the moderator at the post-match interview. He was right and Murray also correctly responded by saying he ‘lost to (Roger) Federer in the final’.Murray, 35, said he is expecting a dogfight in the semi-final today against Lehecka.“He (Lehecka) started the year extremely well. He had a great run at the Australian Open. One of the best young players on the Tour. I’m sure some of you saw his match today. He hits a huge ball from the back of the court. Great ball striker. So yeah, big test for me and hopefully I can, I can put on a good performance,” the Olympics gold medallist from the 2012 and 2016 Games said.Medvedev candidly admitted that O’Connell, 28, proved to a tricky opponent.“Maybe because definitely at five, all in the third,” Medvedev said when asked if he had more experience than his rival at key points. “The tiebreak was really close, but you have your last chance to break him and try to serve for the match. I managed to play quite a good game. He missed a few shots which he didn’t miss before. So winning the important moments in the match helped me get through,” he added.“Everything depends on small moments, sometimes confidence, sometimes pure luck. Sometimes it’s kind of 50-50 where one time you’re going to win, one time you’re going to lose. I lost some close matches in my life. I won some. I am just trying to use my experience to make it better. But it doesn’t work all the time, so I’m happy it worked today.
Top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia yesterday rallied from a set down to beat Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor to reach the quarter-finals at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open.Rublev, the 2020 champion and a losing finalist in 2018, yesterday won 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6) in 1 hour and 54 minutes.Second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada also braved a mighty onslaught from Australia’s Jason Kubler before posting a three-set win. After losing the first set, Auger-Aliassime got his game together for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in 2 hours and 16 minutes.Also yesterday, former champion Andy Murray of Great Britain beat fourth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in three gruelling sets. Murray, winner here in 2008 and 2009, won 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-5 in 3 hours and 2 minutes.Murray will now play French qualifier Alexandre Muller who yesterday stunned eighth seed Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands. Muller won 6-2, 6-4 in 1 hour and 14 minutes.“Alex is a top player. He’s a great competitor. He always fights right till the end. It’s one of his biggest strengths. So even once I got that tight first set, he kept going for it,” Murray said.“In the third set, I was really hanging on as he was creating more of the chances and was a better player for large parts of that, but I managed to stay strong, kept fighting and got the break at the end and closed it out well,” the 35-year-old said.Rublev, who lost in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last month, admitted he was taken by surprise in the clash against Griekspoor.“I don’t know,” Rublev said when asked how he managed to get the win in three sets. Rublev fired 10 aces in his fighting win, his 10th overall in Doha.“I guess I was lucky. He’s coming from Rotterdam. He had tough matches in there, three sets, and he came straight away here without rest. So obviously mentally for him it was super tough,” the Russian added.“Maybe that’s why I was able to break him at the most important moment of the match. If he was fresh, I think there would be no chance (for me). I was lucky today,” he added.“I wasn’t breathing easy. I don’t know why. I couldn’t breathe well. I was just, like I said, lucky,” Rublev said.Rublev added: “Super excited to be back in Doha. I have great, great memories here. My second (career) final was here. In the next couple of years I won the title. I won the title in doubles also. So a lot of great memories. I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to play in front of you guys, and I’m enjoying my time here.”Last year, Rublev reached the semi-finals without playing a single match after getting a bye in the opening round, a walkover by Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the second round followed by another walkover by Marton Fucsovics of Hungary.In the semi-finals, Rublev lost to Roberto Bautista Agut, the eventual champion.In an inspiring show of resolve, Rublev yesterday saved three match points in the ninth game of the third set. Later on, Rublev needed three match points of his own in the tie-break to claim victory over Griekspoor.In the quarter-final today, Rublev takes on last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals runner-up from the Czech Republic Jiri Lehecka who yesterday beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-2, 7-6 (2).Yesterday, Auger-Aliassime beat Kubler in three sets, thanks to his staggering 15 aces.“No, the wind was okay,” Auger-Aliassime said when asked if wind was a factor in yesterday’s slow start. “I think the first day I got here was pretty windy. I think it was Sunday or Monday,” he added.“Today was all right. You know, I think it could have been worse, but it’s just so different from when I was playing indoors last week, and I think in the afternoon with the sun it got a bit hot and the conditions were quite fast. The ball was flying a lot. I had to adapt to that in the first set,” the Canadian said.“I was struggling to find precision in my shots overall, especially on the return and the serve. Once I got the rhythm and I found my position on the first shots in the rally, then things got much better,” he added.“Overall, good conditions to play in. It’s a great court,” he added.In the quarter-final today, Auger-Aliasime will face seventh seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain who yesterday beat South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon 6-3, 6-2 in 78 minutes.Singles Round of 16 resultsFelix Auger-Aliassime (2), Canada, def. Jason Kubler, Australia, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.Jiri Lehecka, Czech Republic, def. Emil Ruusuvuori, Finland, 6-2, 7-6 (2).Alexandre Muller, France, def. Botic Van de Zandschulp (8), Netherlands, 6-2, 6-4.Andrey Rublev (1), Russia, def. Tallon Griekspoor, Netherlands, 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6).Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (7), Spain, def. Kwon Soon Woo, South Korea, 6-3, 6-2.Andy Murray, Britain, def. Alexander Zverev (4), Germany, 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-5.Christopher O’Connell, Australia, def. Roberto Bautista Agut (5), Spain, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.Centre CourtQuarter-finals start at 2:30pm(1) Andrey Rublev (RUS) vs Jiri Lehecka (CR)Followed byAndy Murray (GBR) vs Alexandre Muller (FRA)Not Before 6:00pmChristopher O’Connell vs Liam Broady Or Daniil MedvedevFollowed By(7) Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs (2) Felix Auger-Aliassime