The month-long AFC Asian Cup has reached the climax and it all comes down to the summit clash between four-time champions Japan and Qatar on Friday. The latter are not really counted among the Asian heavyweights and as such, their run to the final has surprised many.
Interestingly, Qatar have not conceded a single goal in the tournament so far and will be looking to clinch their maiden title. It must be noted that the last time these two teams faced each other was in the 2011 Asian Cup.
The Maroons created all sort of trouble for the Blue Samurais in the quarterfinals of that particular edition.
Japan won the five-goal thriller 3-2 and if the finals of the 2019 edition is as exciting as this game was, we are in for a treat.
Three players who featured in the game at Al-Gharafa could appear in the finals on Friday – Maya Yoshida and Yuto Nagatamo for Japan and Hamid Ismail for Qatar. Japan will be missing their best player from that night, Shinji Kagawa, who was not included in this squad.
Sebastian Soria opened the scoring for the hosts after finding some space down the right wing. However, their joy was short-lived, with Shinji Kagawa equalising 15 minutes later. Shinji Okazaki chipped the goalkeeper and Kagawa ensured that the ball went in by tapping it into an open net.
The hosts took the lead again through a Fabio Montezine free-kick from a tight angle. Japan equalised again through Kagawa and the game was heading to a tight finish.
When it looked like the game would step into extra-time, The Blue Samurais went for the kill and got the winner through Masahiko Inoha. Kagawa was again involved in the goal as he did well to receive a threaded pass from the midfield and round the goalkeeper. The winger then lost balance, but the ball fell to Inoha and the full-back made no mistakes in burying it into an open net.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan emerged victorious on that night, thanks to a splendid performance by Kagawa. But the teams are different now and the stakes are higher. Who will come out on top in the finals on Friday?