Both teams are looking to claim their maiden continental crown.
While two heavyweights clash against each other in the first semi-final, the second last four clash sees a completely different story. Two teams that have made very few forays into the elite of Asian football, are trying to bring about a wave of change. Qatar take on another Gulf opposition, when they face the United Arab Emirates at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Both the sides performed giant-killing feats in the quarterfinals and now the semi-fianl awaits. For Qatar and the UAE, this stage is unfamiliar territory, especially for the former. The Maroons have never reached this far in the AFC Asian Cup. On the other hand, the Qataris had appeared in the quarterfinals twice in the last twenty years, but never managed to cross the hurdle.
Now, they look more trimmed and mature than ever. The Felix Sanchez-managed side are yet to concede in the tournament and have also put in a devastating 12 goals into the opposing net. They have been strong and efficient and have dealt with their opponents with a meticulous and calculated approach. They beat Lebanon comfortably in their tournament opener, before a four-goal performance from Almoez Ali helped thrash North Korea.
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Qatar then displayed their grit and mettle over the next three games to eke out wins against far tougher opposition. They beat Saudi Arabia in the group decider before two consecutive 1-0 wins in the knockout stages, first against Iraq and then against the mighty South Korea, making sure that Son Heung-min’s Asian Cup campaign doesn’t end up having the same result as the Asian Games.
Qatar’s energy on the field is something that can’t be questioned. Despite having lesser possession against Saudi Arabia and South Korea, the Maroons made sure that they had the better chances. Ali is having the tournament of his life. The Al-Duhail forward has racked up seven goals and has been a major reason why the Qataris have dominated the offensive front.
Despite being the hosts, The United Arab Emirates have looked lacklustre at times. Alberto Zaccheroni’s men fought hard in the group stages and despite two draws against Bahrain and Thailand, they managed to progress as group-toppers. In the Round of 16, they needed 120 minutes to get past a fighting Kyrgyzstan, but then they pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, when they toppled Australia with a stellar defensive effort in the quarterfinals.
For the UAE, this is the best chance to make a mark in the tournament. The Whites’ best finish was when they were runners-up in 1996, when they last hosted the tournament. They have reached the final only once since then and they will be looking to send the home fans into a frenzy by repeating their feat in the previous edition this time around.
Both Qatar and the UAE had come into this tournament after having a torrid World Cup qualifying campaign. However, both of them have shown remarkable character to bring about a change in their football, culminating in the victories over South Korea and Australia, the continent’s football giants.
While the continent heavyweights face-off a day earlier, Qatar and the UAE will don their respective kits to battle against each other, knowing that no matter who gets into the final, the opposition will have to work harder than ever before to lay their hands on the title.
The Maroons and The Whites have no intention to go gently into the night. It’s their turn to create a new mark in the continent, to announce themselves to the footballing world. No matter who wins this match, the story will be the same. A team up against huge odds, showing profound determination to upset them and come out on top.