Almoez Ali leads Qatar to its first-ever Asian Cup glory

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Qatar stunned four-time champion Japan 3-1 to win the AFC Asian Cup for the first time as striker Almoez Ali scored his record-breaking ninth goal in the tournament on Friday.

Qatar were crowned the Asian champion with a seven-game winning streak, scoring 19 goals and just conceded one.

"We made the history for our country, this is a huge achievement for us and we should be proud of it. I want to thank all of the people in Qatar for their support," said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez.

Almoez Ali, the top scorer of the tournament, opened the scoring after 12 minutes with an acrobatic volley assisted by Akram Hassan Afif, who delivered his ninth assist in the tournament. Ali broke Iranian legend Ali Daei's record of 8 goals in a single Asian Cup.

The 22-year-old striker almost had a brace one minute later, but his shot inside the box was deflected for a corner by Japan captain Maya Yoshida.

Japan, who had never lost in the Asian Cup final, pushed for the equaliser but things got worse after 27 minutes as Abdelaziz Hatim doubled Qatar's lead by curling an unstoppable shot from distance into the far corner.

"We made a poor start and they made us pay for it. I think it's my fault that the players failed to get into our rhythm," Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said.

Qatar nearly made it 3-0 10 minutes before the break as captain Hassan Al Haydos hit the post from close range. With the halftime approaching, Japan failed to turn their dominance of possession into clear chances.

The Samurai Blue looked much sharper after the break, Takumi Minamino pulled one back in the 69th minute with a clinical finish after being well set-up by Yuya Osako.

However, Qatar's nerves were settled minutes later when Abdelkarim Hassan's header from a corner hit Maya Yoshida's hand. The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) offered referee a chance to review it and, after a brief period, Afif converted the penalty to seal the win.

"They prepared this match better than us and played more aggressive in the first half. It was a lesson for me and the team," Yoshida said.

Maya Yoshida had an opportunity to make up for the handball but sent his header over the bar with two minutes remaining.

Although Japan failed to lift their record-extending fifth title, Maya Yoshida felt satisfied with this fresh-looking team without veterans like Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki and Borussia Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa.

"I hope this defeat can make the younger players hungry for success. One of our goals in this tournament was to improve with each match,and we showed improvement from these matches against different styles opponents. I want my players to be proud of what we have done in this tournament," he said. 

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