Newly crowned Asian player of the year Akram Afif scored twice as Qatar booked their place in the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup with a comprehensive 4-2 win over UAE. Afif’s first half braced proved to be the difference-maker for the Asian Champions, whilst a late Boualem Khoukhi put the contest beyond any doubt.
With the game just five minutes old, Abdulkarim Hassan latched onto a cross-field pass from Boualem Khoukhi, the header got past Mohamed Al Shamsi, but the Al Sadd wing-back was only to rattle the post from the tight angle.
The UAE showed glimpses of quality in the opening moments. Tariq Ahmed received the ball from Whites striker Ali Mabkhout, but the midfielder spurned his shot from the edge of the box well wide.
The newly crowned AFC player of the year, Akram Afif guided in an inch-perfect cross to strike partner Almoez Ali, the shot across the goal was diligently saved by the feet of Al Shamsi. It was only a matter of time before Qatar would have the lead.
UAE defender Mohammed Marzooq’s attempted clearance was blocked by Almoez Ali, with the ball falling into the path of Akram Afif, surging forward, the 23 year old showed the composure that crowned him as Asian’s best player calmly slotting the ball through the legs of Al Shamsi to fire the Asian Champions into a deserved lead.
Qatar was handed a second goal with a helping hand from VAR eight minutes later, UAE defender Mohammed Barqesh was adjudged to have handled the ball in an incident with Karim Boudiaf. After a lengthy delay in proceedings, referee Sato Ryuji pointed to the spot and Afif quickly fired into a two-goal lead.
UAE hit back with a penalty of their own, Khalfan Mubarak played a perfect ball into the path of Bandar Mohamed who was tripped up by the hands of Saad Al Sheeb, who picked up a yellow card for the challenge. Ali Mabkhbout, the all-time leading scorer for the UAE stepped up and silenced the crowd at the Khalifa Stadium by slotting away the spot-kick.
It was a breathless first half, and Qatar could have taken a 3-1 lead, had Hassan Haydoos found the feet of Almoez Ali, moments later a snapshot from the Duhail striker was goal-bound before Mohammed Barqesh threw out a boot to deflect the ball out for a corner.
Al Annabi looked the stronger side heading into the break, Tariq Ahmed’s rash challenge saw Akram Afif standing over the free-kick. A quick pass to Abdulkarim Hassan and a fierce shot went straight at Al Shamsi. Qatar went into the break with a valuable 2-1 lead.
Afif came inches away from scoring his hat-trick with the second half just two minutes old, a well-considered through ball from Hassan Haydoos, found Afif baring down on goal a snapshot had Al Shamsi well beaten, but only managed to hit the crossbar.
Yet another defensive error from the UAE handed Qatar their third goal of the game. Midfielder Abdullah Ramadan was easily dispossessed by Hassan Al-Haydos, who flicked the ball forward to Almoez Ali, the ball eventually fell into the path of Al-Haydos who drilled his shot through the legs of Al Shamsi.
Ali Mabkhbout was a constant threat for the UAE, but a rash shot from thirty yards summed up the Whites night, who were finding it hard to breakdown the Qatar backline and create any clear cut goal scoring opportunities.
The second half seemed all about game management for Al Annabi. Hassan Haydoos made way for Abdulaziz Hatem, and the Asian Champions elected to play on the counter with a 5-3-2 formation with more than willing runners in Almoez Ali and Akram Afif.
Yet Mabkhbout was not to be denied, and scored his fifth goal of the tournament, to ratchet up any nerves that Qatar fans had heading into the final thirteen minutes. A corner fell to the Al Jazira hit-man who smashed a shot goal bound just squirming under the arms of Saad Al Sheeb.
Qatar put the game beyond any doubt in second-half stoppage time as Boualem Khoukhi headed in a fourth. Despite the post-game altercation, Qatar kept their cool to secure the victory over their gulf rivals. With qualification now secured Al Annabi focus will now turn to their semi-final match which will take place on the 5th of December.