Coach: Qatar won't be distracted from final by eligibility row

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Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu (left) shakes hands with his Qatar counterpart Felix Sanchez as they pose with the Asian Cup during a photo session at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, on the eve of the final.

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said his team would not be distracted from the "most important match in the country's football history" by a protest over the eligibility of two of its best players at the Asian Cup.

The National newspaper reported on Thursday, the eve of the Asian Cup final between Qatar and Japan, that the United Arab Emirates had formally questioned the eligibility of 22-year-old Almoez Ali and Iraqi-born defender Bassam al-Rawi, 21.

Sudan-born striker Ali scored his record-equalling eighth goal of the tournament when Qatar humiliated the hosts UAE 4-0 in the semifinals on Tuesday, while al-Rawi was suspended for that match but is expected to return in the final.

The governing Asian Football Confederation confirmed that a protest had been received from the UAE FA regarding two players and that it would be "reviewed in line with the AFC Regulations".

Spaniard Sanchez, however, said that his squad was concentrating exclusively on preparing for Friday's match at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

"We are only focused on the game we're going to play tomorrow, any other things not related to football is not in our minds at the moment."

"I'm not concerned at all," he said, adding when asked whether the protest might act as motivation for his players: "My players need no more motivation than to play an Asian Cup final."

FIFA requirements mandate that a player switching national teams must either qualify through their parents or grandparents or have resided in a country for five years after their 18th birthday.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from either the UAE or the Qatar FA.

The protest comes against a background of a political and economic boycott of Qatar which the UAE launched with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in 2017. The four countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, which it denies.

The political rift was manifest in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday when Emirati fans hurled sandals and drinks bottles at Ali and two other players celebrating their goals during the semifinal.

The rift also means that almost no Qatari fans or media have been in the UAE to support and report on its run to a first continental final.

Sanchez said beating four-time champion Japan on Friday would be the biggest achievement in the game for the host nation of the 2022 World Cup.

"This is most important game in Qatar's football history," he said.

"The players are confident and looking forward to the game but have a lot of respect for our opponents, who have a fantastic squad and have played a great tournament."

Meanwhile, Maya Yoshida believes winning a fifth Asian Cup on Friday would be a major step forward for Japanese football and a young team still finding its feet on the international stage, the Japan captain said on Thursday.

The Southampton defender is the experienced heart of a youthful side that coach Hajime Moriyasu has put together since he took over in the wake of Japan's last-16 exit from last year's World Cup.

The success of the campaign in Russia combined with a victory over Qatar at Zayed Sports City would give the Samurai Blue a major profile boost back home, the 30-year-old Yoshida told reporters.

"If we can get a result here it will get us more attention back home and it will affect the sports culture in Japan," he said.

"I really want to win this fifth title for Japan because we're such a good group under a great coach and with great teammates and I want to spend more time with these teammates.

"Now that the team is changing to a new generation, if we can get the title here it's going to be a big step forward for Japan football."

Moriyasu said that, while wary of the threat Qatar poses, his team would look to play its own game, which, after an underwhelming start to the tournament, it showcased in an impressive 3-0 win over Iran in the semifinals.

"We are aware Qatar are a very strong team, that they have scored 16 goals and kept clean sheets all the way through, but no matter how they play we will stay the same," he said.

"We will analyze them and then we will express our best on the field. We are also a team that has reached the final, so I want the players to be confident because of that.

"We have been developing as a team throughout each game and I want us to show that development on the field tomorrow."

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