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Asian Cup 2019: Qatar delivers humiliating blow to UAE Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Asian Cup 2019: Qatar delivers humiliating blow to UAE

Qatar have not conceded a single goal through the tournament [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 January, 2019

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'Football's Gulf War', 'The Blockade Derby,' you name it, Qatar won it, thrashing the UAE 4-0 in the Arab Derby in Abu Dhabi to reach the Asian Cup 2019 final.
The 2019 Asian Cup semi-final between Qatar and the UAE was one of the most hotly anticipated matches in the tournament, not least for the politics that surrounded the event. The 'Gulf Crisis' has been in the minds of most in the days before the match - and even during the match itself. 

No match in the tournament has seen a stadium packed this way.

Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi was filled with 38,646 fans. The vast majority were supporting the home side, after Emirati authorities block-bought 18,000 tickets as a "charitable act", to give them away for free to locals (while coincidentally ensuring few "neutral" Qatar fans could get a seat). Just a few Omanis and Sudanese visitors - and one now famous Korean woman, Mary Lee - supported the Qataris.

Yet the hostile environment in the stadium, that saw Emirati fans screaming chants during the Qatari national anthem, did not influence Felix Sanchez Bas or his players as Qatar set out to simply eliminate the Emiratis in the first half. 



With a solid and organised performance, the Annabis broke down the UAE
's defence again and again. In the 22nd minute, a counter-attack led by Akram Afif and Boualem Khoukhi ended with a nice goal from Khoukhi, an Algerian-Qatari, with his shot sliding under the body of UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eissa.

Forty-thousand Emiratis were silenced in the Abu Dhabi stadium, as Khoukhi kissed the Qatari crest on his chest in front of the world's cameras. 
Qatar played as a solid unit. They defended well, pressed hard, knew where to place themselves. Sanchez has built an excellent team from a group of players he has trained for the past ten years. 
Just 15 minutes later, it was already 2-0. Almoez Ali received the ball from Afif in the final third, took two defenders with him, and from the left side of the pitch, with his right foot, released a thunderous, curling shot, bouncing off the inside of the right-hand post and into the net. The Emirati fans were furious. 


The Sudanese-born striker, in the centre of a legal saga for the past week over his eligibility to play for Qatar, notched his eighth goal of the tournament, equalling the record of Iranian legend Ali Daei and danced in front of the home crowd. The fans answered with an avalanche of shoes thrown onto the pitch, as the masses in the stands simply lost control. Further volleys of shoes and bottles followed throughout the match.

Read more: Flying shoes fail to kill sportsmanship as UAE and Qatar face off

The second half was a much more conservative affair from both teams, with Sanchez and Alberto Zaccheroni afraid to make any mistakes. The UAE's Italian coach threw veteran Ahmed Khalil into the fray to replace Ismaeel al-Hammadi in midfield, but it was only a cosmetic change.

In the 80th minute, Hassan al-Haydos, the Qatari captain, received a wonderful ball from Akram Afif, sliding smoothly past his defender and with a stylish chip over a grounded goalkeeper, sealed the UAE
's fate. At least they wouldn't have far to walk home (many barefoot).

At 3-0 to Qatar, it was only a matter of when the final whistle would blow. 

Despite a generally good-natured match (at least on the pitch), Ismael Ahmed received a red card after he elbowed a Qatari forward in the face in an off-the-ball incident - in what looked like the final nail in the UAE's coffin - but theer was yet more bad news for the Emiratis. In the third minute of stoppage time, Hamid Ismail notched Qatar's fourth goal, after an assist from Karim Boudiaf.

Xavi Hernandez predicted a month before the tournament that Qatar and Japan would meet in the Asian Cup
final, and that Qatar would win. The football world laughed and accused him of receiving some PR guru's money (he is, after all, playing in Qatar).
 
But Xavi was at least half right. Qatar, with a 16-0 goal difference in the tournament, having kept six clean sheets and collected six straight victories are by far the most impressive team of the tournament. 

This Friday, they will make history when they play Qatar
's first ever Asian Cup final against Japan - a four-time winner.
Mission impossible? Not for Felix Sanchez and his team of dark horses. The sky is the limit for this team. And even a loss in the final wouldn't undermine the foundations set in this tournament for a promising side for the 2022 World Cup.
 

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

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