Captain Hassan Al Haydos credited the spirit within the Qatar camp for the defending champions’ return to the Asian Cup final on Saturday, as the tournament hosts look to become the first nation to retain the title in 20 years.
Al Haydos will lead his side out against surprise package Jordan at the magnificent Lusail Stadium, scene of Argentina’s World Cup win over France in December 2022, aiming to win the title five years after the nation’s first Asian Cup success in the United Arab Emirates.
The game will be officiated by Ma Ning, with the 44-year-old from Fuxin in Liaoning province becoming the first referee from China to take charge of an Asian Cup final.
Victory would see Qatar emulate the feats of South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan to become only the fifth nation to retain the title, with the Japanese the last to do so against China in 2004.
“A month before the tournament no one expected we would reach the final, no one thought we would deliver this performance,” said Al Haydos, whose performances, along with those of Akram Afif, have been key to Qatar’s progress.
“But we’ve been working together and there is trust between the players and the coach, the technical team and the Qatar Football Association. The team has been able to reach this level because of the efforts of the players and the unity between everyone.”
The Qataris came into the competition in a state of flux in the aftermath of their dismal performance at the World Cup, when they endured the embarrassment of losing all three games under former coach Felix Sanchez.
Sanchez’s successor, former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, left Qatar by mutual consent in late December, to be replaced at the helm by Marquez Lopez and the Spaniard has galvanised the team in a remarkably short period of time.
Qatar won their group games against Lebanon, Tajikistan and China before seeing off Palestine in the last 16 and defeating Uzbekistan on penalties in the quarter-finals. They then booked their place in the final with a dramatic 3-2 win over Iran.
Jordan will also be making their debut appearance in the decider, with Lhoussaine Ammouta’s side unexpected finalists at the end of an unpredictable event that saw pre-tournament favourites Japan, South Korea and Iran fall to the wayside in the earlier rounds.
Led by the live wire talents of Montpellier forward Mousa Al Tamari, Jordan staged a remarkable comeback to defeat Iraq in the last 16 before beating Tajikistan and then underlined their quality by seeing off Jurgen Klinsmann’s South Korea with relative comfort.
“We don’t need to explain how important the final is as both teams want to win a historical title for both of them,” said Moroccan Ammouta, who has become a national hero in Jordan.
“Every one of us would like to see a big crowd, we would like our fans to be supporting us inside the stadium and hopefully we will deliver. We want this final to be up to the fans’ expectations, to show them the true value of this team.”