Qatar put World Cup heartache behind them to win Asian Cup opener

Two-goal Akram Afif said Qatar had “forgotten about the World Cup” after the defending champions got their Asian Cup campaign off to a winning start in the tournament’s opening game on Friday.

The hosts beat Lebanon 3-0 at the 88,000-capacity Lusail Stadium, where a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina beat France on penalties in the World Cup final 13 months ago.

Qatar suffered a disastrous 2022 World Cup on the pitch, making a first-round exit after losing all three games, the worst performance by a host in the history of the competition.

But Afif said they were ready to make a fresh start at the Asian Cup, five years after they won the continental title for the first time.

“It was disappointing but we are proud that we played at the World Cup,” said the forward.

“We have forgotten about the World Cup, we have forgotten about 2019 — we are living today in a new day.

“Every day is a chance to compete and to fight for a chance to hold the cup.”

Qatar stunned Japan in the 2019 final in the United Arab Emirates, lifting the trophy after winning every game they played at the tournament.

They went into this year’s competition only one month after changing their coach, with Tintin Marquez replacing Carlos Queiroz.

Everything clicked into place against Lebanon, with Afif rifling in a shot on the stroke of half-time to put them ahead.

Almoez Ali doubled Qatar’s lead after the break before Afif bagged a late third.

“I’m very glad because the players gave 200 percent,” said Marquez.

“I was very satisfied but we have to maintain the same level of performance for the rest of the tournament.”

– Empty seats –

The official attendance was given as 82,490 but spectators began leaving as soon as half time, even with the home side leading.

Only a smattering of fans was left to see Afif’s deft finish for Qatar’s third.

Afif, one of the stars of Qatar’s Asian Cup-winning side five years ago, urged the fans to support the team throughout.

“It is very important for us when we are at home in front of our fans to give a performance that makes them proud,” he said.

“We want them to stay with us because they are our backbone.”

Lebanon are appearing at the Asian Cup for only the third time.

Coach Miodrag Radulovic said his team had conceded the first goal “at the worst time”.

“In the first half we played quite well and we had our chance but we didn’t score,” he said.

“It’s an old football rule — when you don’t score, you concede.”

The match kicked off after an opening ceremony that drew attention to the war in Gaza, with Palestine’s captain taking the stage for the players’ oath and Palestinian music at the beginning and end.

Qatar captain Hassan Al-Haydos introduced his Palestinian counterpart Musab Al-Battat to deliver the oath — traditionally taken by the host captain — on his behalf.

Battat wore the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh headscarf along with his team tracksuit.

Saturday’s action begins with Australia taking on India, before China play Tajikistan and Uzbekistan face Syria.


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