The 2022 World Cup hosts qualified for their maiden AFC Asian Cup final.

It was hard to find that one Qatari supporter who was not from the official travelling group with the team, such is the current nature of the political turmoil surrounding countries like the UAE and Qatar, at the moment. The Gulf’s status quo has been so disturbed, that the UAE did not allow even Arabs with a soft corner for their neighbours, into the stadium. Little did all the restrictions help!

They were attacked from the outside, they attacked inside. Qatar completely outplayed the host nation and qualified for their first AFC Asian Cup final in their history. A lot of fans called it a political landslide, but make no mistake, this was down to the brilliance of just one man – Felix Sanchez.

Watch: Qatar 4-0 UAE, Goals and Highlights

Sanchez, a Spaniard, took his footballing lessons at Barcelona, working as a youth coach. From 2006, he has worked at the ground level in Qatar with Aspire Academy and slowly worked his way up to the national team. Having sown the seeds early, he’s just now reaping the ripe fruits.

The UAE, in hindsight, would have done better with Omar Abdulrahman, who was ruled out with a knee injury. However, the extent of dominance from the Maroons over the Whites was a little too obvious and visible. The gaps were evident and Karim Boudiaf exploited each one. The #12 is someone Japan should be wary, very wary of.

He doesn’t score. He doesn’t even come close to it, playing in and around the attacking third. He’s a stroke of genius, a brilliant ploy deployed by his manager. Karim is well built, he stands at 1.87m and is a destroyer. His work is similar to what Milan Singh did for the Delhi Dynamos under Gianluca Zambrotta.

Coming to the tactical side of the game, let us break it down into three phases, for clarity.

In Attack

Zaccheroni’s 4-2-3-1 formation for UAE was no match for the brilliant Qataris

Most teams hold their natural shape in attack and undergo transition when they are defending. The UAE-Qatar semi-final was no different. The Emirates’ supporters would have expected a little more efficiency from star striker Ali Mabkhout, but the #9 missed three heading opportunities over the two halves.

Was it a little too much to expect from him? Honestly, yes and no. While he likes to take responsibility, he deserves better support as well. However, he didn’t have much of that, with Ismail Al Hammadi slipping during his runs, Saif Rashid not making any and Amer Abdulrahman remaining too engrossed in his defensive duties. The 4-2-3-1 didn’t really trouble the Qataris, who were brilliantly shielded by Assim Madibo, who looked so comfortable in the hole.

Bandar Al-Ahbabi was the only one who was looking to provide Mabkhout with regular supply in the box. The #9 tried enough, but couldn’t really contribute much, with his laces miss-hitting most attempts.

Fares Juma and Ismail Ahmed didn’t really do much wrong, such was the Qatari dominance. They played through the lines and the sporadic vivacity of Akram Afif as well as the silent athletic work of Almoez Ali, were enough to flummox the opposition.

For the first goal, Khalid Elsa would be incriminating himself. The ball bounced four times before it hit the back of the net from Boualem Khouki, a centre-back who counter-attacked from a UAE counter-attack. It wasn’t the most powerful of finishes, but it was just destined to be.


Qatar, meanwhile, should thank Salem Al-Hajri and Karim for controlling the midfield the way they did. It allowed captain Hassan Al-Haydos and Afif to ensure the side had enough width. The team attacked in a 4-1-4-1 shape, with Madibo in the role of the shield in front of the defence. The full-backs, too, contributed time and again.

In Defence

Qatar threatened the UAE backline throughout the match

Qatar defended in a 4-5-1 shape, with Afif the only hesitant joinee in the team’s cleaning up work. Almoez Ali played his part and Karim broke down several attacks centrally. Captain Haydos linked up with gumption and played the ball out of his own half on a lot of occasions. Madibo ruled and guided the inexperienced defence, with Boualem and Tarek Salman having only a few clearances to make.

Transition, though, wasn’t too loud for the UAE side. They sat back for most of the game, threatened by the pace of Afif and Ali. Juma isn’t the fastest centre-back and Ismail Ahmed keeps making the odd mistake. The team, though, was only helped from their original shape to a 4-4-2 in attack and that slowed down even further in the second half, with the introduction of senior pros Ismail Matar and Ahmed Khalil. It took the speed and sting out of the UAE game.

The senior pair did have a few shots on target, but they didn’t really trouble the burgeoning confidence of Al Sheeb, who is en route to become the best goalkeeper at the tournament.

The Goals

Qatar initiated some brilliant attacking moves

Tactically, the first goal was an old-school counter-attack and poor goalkeeping mixed in sync. The second one was pure thinking. Breaking through the lines, Afif initiated a move and found Salem, who fed it to Almoez. The #9, a silent knight, went on a run, wrong-footed two defenders and without even lifting his head, planted a shot, Thierry Henry in his prime would have been proud of. Right in the corner, the ball hit the post and ruffled the net.

The last two goals were down to tired UAE minds and resilient Qatar dreams, as captain Heydos and substitute Hamid Ismail helped themselves onto the scoresheet. This bodes well for the Al-Annabi, who will face the mighty Japan in the final on Friday.

Special Mentions

Almoez Ali extended his fine goalscoring run in the tournament

You give a capable coach a side for 13 years and he would certainly make something out of it. Sanchez has done that and this group is as closely close-knit as they can be. Almoez Ali, the man who matched the AFC Asian Cup goalscoring record with his eighth strike in six games, reminds us of Samuel Eto’o during his Inter Milan days, taking the team to UEFA Champions League glory. Sheer effectiveness, but not one mention of him on the camera. You have to be in awe of such players who do their work, go back home and do their work the next day again. 

Afif will need to start with confidence and fire in his belly if he wishes to become a real hero. The lad has talent, certainly and his first touch speaks for him. However, he needs to start taking men on. Sanchez saved his side from bottles this time, but he will need to save them again, from Japanese attacks.