Qatar kicked off the defence of their AFC Asian Cup title with an impressive 3-0 win over Lebanon as the 2023 edition of the continental showpiece got off to a fine start at the Lusail Stadium on Friday.
The victory was richly deserved with Qatar dominating from start to finish, Akram Afif scoring twice with Almoez Ali netting the third – which saw him equal Korea Republic’s Lee Dong-gook as the second highest scorer in the history of the AFC Asian Cup – as the defending champions set the early pace in Group A.
Qatar wasted little time in making their presence felt with Abdulaziz Hatem unleashing a shot from just inside the box, forcing Lebanon keeper Mehdi Khalil into early action.
The hosts, however, were denied an opening goal in the sixth minute after Hatem sent a through ball for Ali, who evaded his marker and slotted the ball past a diving Khalil, only for the forward to be flagged offside.
Lebanon gradually got their act together with Ali Tneich threatening in the 11th minute, while Hussein Al Zein shot from a tight angle to earn Lebanon’s first attempt on target five minutes later.
It was end to end action with Qatar forcing a fine save from Khalil in the 20th minute following Almahdi Ali’s deflected header off Afif’s set-piece while at the other end, Hassan Maatouk surged forward in a swift counter-attacking move but shot straight into the arms of Qatar keeper Meshaal Barsham.
Afif had a great chance in the 31st minute but his glancing header from Yusuf Abdurisag’s cross skimmed off the crossbar but the 2019 AFC Player of the Year made amends in the closing stages of the half.
A lapse in concentration saw Lebanon fail to deal with Jadoua Al Bayati’s deep cross from the left, leaving Ali to set up Afif to slot home from inside the box with goalkeeper Khalil rooted.
Lebanon came back fighting in the second half with Jradi almost catching Qatar on the backfoot in the 47th minute only for Pedro Miguel to deflect his effort from just above the box in the end.
Qatar, however, doubled their lead in the 56th minute courtesy of 2019 MVP and top scorer Ali, who headed home Mohammed Waad’s cross from the left to take his all-time AFC Asian Cup tally to 10 goals.
Afif capped an impressive night for Qatar deep into added time when he capitalised on loose defending to slot home.
Qatar will look to build on their win when they face Tajikistan on Wednesday, while Lebanon will aim to bounce back against China PR.