Qatar overcame a hostile atmosphere to beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 and clinch top spot in their Asian Cup group after a contest bristling with political animosity on Thursday.
Almoez Ali bagged a double in Abu Dhabi, where the Qatari national anthem was drowned out by boos from a pro-Saudi crowd and the 2022 World Cup hosts were jeered every time they attacked.
Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in June, 2017 over Doha’s alleged support of terrorism, an accusation Qatar denies.
Asian Cup hosts the United Arab Emirates stand squarely behind the Gulf blockade of Qatar and the mood was highly charged — even if the football at times wasn’t.
Both teams had already qualified from Group E after winning their first two matches and it was Saudi Arabia who almost broke through after 22 minutes when striker Fahad Almuwallad slammed a right-foot shot against the post.
Qatar captain Hasan Al-Haydos missed a penalty in the 42nd minute after Ali had been clattered in the box.
But Ali, who plundered four goals in Qatar’s 6-0 rout of North Korea last weekend, made no mistake in first-half stoppage time.
He calmly slotted the ball past Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais to stun the partisan crowd and become the first player to score six goals in a single Asian Cup since South Korea’s Lee Dong-gook in 2000.
Ali subsequently headed in a seventh goal of the tournament 10 minutes from time, celebrating with a jig of delight that further antagonised the crowd.
At the final whistle, the Qatari players celebrated as if they had won the tournament, infuriating Saudi substitute Mohammed Alsaiari, who tried to shove them off the pitch.
“I think our players were busy enough not to notice,” insisted Qatar coach Felix Sanchez Bas, referring to the constant booing.
“But during the anthem there were some difficult moments,” admitted the Spaniard. “You have to celebrate wins like this. It was like a derby game — I’m very proud of my players.”
Qatar, who have never gone beyond the quarter-finals, advance to face Iraq in the last 16, while three-time winners Saudi Arabia take on Japan.
“It was an intense game but we have to hide our feelings and prepare for the last 16,” said Saudi coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.
“We were missing quality in the final third and individual errors have cost us,” he added.
“But we will bounce back. I respect every team left in the competition, including Japan, but I don’t feel that we are inferior to them in any way.”
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