Just when everyone thought that defending champions Qatar had not faced a challenging enough opposition and that three-time AFC Asian Cup winners Iran posed a big threat to them in the semi-final, the hosts brought out their quality scoring a telling come-from-behind 3-2 win at a packed Al Thumama Stadium to storm into the final.
Qatar will play Jordan in Saturday’s final at Lusail Stadium, where Lionel Messi lifted the World Cup for Argentina in 2022.
Almoez Ali fired Qatar into the final with an 82nd-minute winner in what was a frenetic encounter.
The 22-odd minutes soon after the deciding goal of the match saw the 40,432 fans roar the arena alive with the crescendo just refusing to die down. Such was the euphoria.
It did make Iran’s hopes of scoring another equalizer of the match impossible even though they had luck to rue as an Alireza Jahanbakhsk shot in added time went on to hit the far left post.
In the end, it was the bravado of the Al Annabi that stood, who have now won thirteen games in a row in the tournament since their fairytale maiden trophy triumph in the UAE in 2019.
Iran had fired the opening salvo with Sardar Azmoun making a successful overhead kick into the back of the net in the fourth minute.
Qatar hit back soon with a deflected equalizer from Jassem Gaber in the 17th minute and the mercurial Akram Afif scoring his fifth goal of the tournament with a brilliant individual effort in the 43rd – cutting into the box and lashing a shot beyond Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
Iran leveled the game again six minutes into the second half from the penalty spot as Alireza Jahanbakhsh converted after a handball from Ahmed Fathy.
But Ali, who scored nine goals in the 2019 tournament, grabbed his second of this campaign when he fired low from inside the box late on.
Iran was reduced to 10 men when Shoja Khalilzadeh was sent off for a foul on Afif.