The 2023 Asian Cup concluded in a similar fashion to how it had started almost a month ago: with Qatar’s Akram Afif scoring. He opened the scoring for the host team against Lebanon and sealed the victory with a goal in the 95th minute of the final match against Jordan, bringing the score to 3-1. This sparked joyous celebrations among the majority of the 86,000 fans in attendance at Lusail Stadium.
Afif successfully converted three penalty kicks for Qatar, making him the top scorer of the tournament with eight goals. The Chinese referee, Ma Ning, did not make any controversial calls despite the Jordanian players’ sarcastic applause. The Jordanian team was particularly frustrated by the second penalty kick.
In the first half, Afif scored the opening goal after being fouled in the penalty area. Jordan, who may have been surprised to be in this position after defeating Iraq and South Korea, had a slow start and only began to show signs of life towards the end of the first half.
After Jordan gained the upper hand, things took a turn as Yazan al-Naimat scored the equalizer in the middle of the second half. His control, turn, and shot to score were a pleasure to watch. At this point, Jordan appeared to have the advantage, but soon after, there was yet another reckless tackle in the penalty area, leading to a video review and another penalty kick. It was difficult to recover from this setback, although Jordan put in their best effort until Afif secured the victory by drawing another foul in the box, this time by the goalkeeper.
The 27-year-old performed a card trick to honor his wife, but despite not being a spectacular showing from Qatar, it was enough for the small Middle Eastern country to be crowned champions of the biggest continent for the second time in a row. The 2019 victory was dominant, with 19 goals scored and only one conceded. However, this year’s performance was not as impressive. Almoez Ali, who had nine goals five years ago, showed glimpses of his previous deadly form but lacked clinical finishing. The captain, Hassan al-Haydos, was unable to play a full 90 minutes, and the defense was not as well-organized as in the past. Nonetheless, Qatar displayed strength, resilience, and Afif in their gameplay.
In the quarter-final match against Uzbekistan, despite being in a tough position, they persevered and ultimately won through penalty kicks. In the semi-finals against Iran, even when facing a strong opponent, they remained composed and scored a decisive goal that may have been unexpected, but was all the more satisfying.
For those outside the continent, Qatar’s triumph will not reflect well on the strength of Asian football. After all, this is a team that have been crowned champions twice in five years but failed so spectacularly on home soil at the 2022 World Cup, losing all three games. Looking back, the training camp that lasted for months, robbing players of competitive action before their biggest competitive game – and first in the World Cup – against Ecuador was always risky.
It was a possibility that the significance of the event, the stress, and the strong determination to succeed could be overwhelming and result in a poor start that could escalate into something even worse. If this were the European Championship or the Africa Cup of Nations, winning the continental title would greatly help restore their reputation. However, the Asian Cup does not hold the same level of importance, and Qatar will need to qualify for the World Cup for the first time and perform well in 2026.
Jordan’s goal is to also become an impressive team during the knockout stages. This competition has brought attention to Naimat and Mousa al-Taamari as rising stars. While al-Taamari had a subdued performance in the final, he is the sole player from both squads who plays in Europe for Montpellier. The match highlighted the fact that well-coached, cohesive teams with homegrown talent will outperform poorly managed teams composed of star players (yes, this is a nod to Jürgen Klinsmann and South Korea). It is clear that the next objective is to have more players in top European leagues.
Afif attempted but was unsuccessful. However, he expressed his desire to try again after the game and now, at the age of 27, it may be the right time. Jordan’s coach, Hussein Ammouta, has proven his ability to achieve success in both Asia and Africa. He hopes to have Taamari joined by other players as soon as possible. There are not many role models for Arab players from Western Asian countries to aspire to, and while there are various factors contributing to this, a lack of talent is not one of them.
The recent Asian Cup has highlighted that the focus for Jordan and Qatar is now on the year 2026.