* Qatar face the UAE in the quarters, while Oman take on Tunisia on Friday
Qatar needed its star trio Almoez Ali, Akram Afif and Hassan al-Haydos to come off the bench to secure a 3-0 win for the hosts against Iraq at the FIFA Arab Cup.
The Asian champions’ second half burst at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor knocked Iraq out from the event, with Oman joining Qatar in the last eight after a 3-0 win over Bahrain Monday.
Qatar now take on the UAE in the quarters on Friday, with Oman facing Group B toppers Tunisia on the same day. With qualification to quarter-finals already ensured, Qatar coach Felix Sanchez made nine changes to his starting XI that played against Oman.
Star striker Akram Afif scores Qatar’s second goal. Reuters
Only Bassam al-Rawi and Abdelaziz Hatem retained their place as Sanchez fielded fresh faces to give rest to the tired bodies. The Qatari youngsters put in a good shift at the start countering the physical nature of the Iraqi game but could not translate their domination in possession into chances. In fact, Iraq will count themselves unlucky after goalkeeper Yousof Hassan denied Bashar Resan with a double save in the 22nd minute, while Yaser Kasim’ shot hit the woodwork seven minute before half-time.
Iraq, who needed a win to enter the quarters, threw the kitchen sink at Qatar’s defenders but the host’s backline stood up to the challenge. Qatar did create a couple of chances with half-time approaching but it nowhere did it trouble Iraq goalkeeper Fahad Talib. Sanchez’s men did look more threatening in the second half as Musab Khader’s header from a difficult angle was blocked by Talib, who was also forced to palm away Muntari’s solo effort.
With Iraq’s threat wavering off, Sanchez brought in his big boys to the game. The Qatar coach made a double substitution at the half-hour mark, replacing al-Rawi and Ahmed Alaaeldin with Boualem Khoukhi and Khalid Muneer.
With the balance of the match shifting towards Qatar, Sanchez introduced Almoez and al-Haydos for the injured Muntari and Ali Asad respectively. With an injection of pace into the forward line, spaces opened up for Qatar and it was only a matter of time before they went ahead.
Al-Haydos went close with a long range shot coming off the crossbar in 72nd minute, before Almoez broke the deadlock ten minutes later.
The Al Duhail forward latched onto a mistake from Munaf Younus as he drove past the Iraq defender and slotted the ball.
Qatar’s star striker Afif, who came in a minute after the first goal, made it 2-0 with literally his first touch before al-Haydos found the back of the net in stoppage time. Three goals in the final twelve minutes made it a perfect start for Qatar as they finished the group stages with nine points, having earlier managed to beat Oman and Bahrain.
The Al Annabi’s real test will come in the knockout stages, with Asian rivals the UAE waiting for them in quarters. If they do get past the Whites, then Sanchez’s men will come up against African giants. For Iraq, after a brave show in the draws against Oman and Bahrain, it was another end to a promising campaign. The last time Iraq lifted a major trophy was in 2007, when they beat Saudi Arabia to win the first AFC Asian Cup title.
Meanwhile, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium Oman powered past Bahrain 3-0 and into the quarter-finals. Mandhar al-Alawi opened the scoring just before half time, while Khalid al-Hajri and Arshad al-Alawi scored in quick succession after the break to send Gulf Champions Bahrain home.