The final between Japan and Qatar at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 takes place today on 1 feb 2019, and while all eyes will be on the players, the match officials could play a huge role as well.
Abu Dhabi: After six wins apiece, Japan and Qatar stand within touching distance of Asian football’s greatest prize as they prepare to meet in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final at Zayed Sports City Stadium on Friday.
Since that we are reporting that the match referee for the final encounter will be the experienced Ravshan Irmatov.
The Uzbekistan referee has loads of experience, and has officiated in several World Cup matches, with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa being his debut in the tournament.
He has been named AFC referee of the year five times in his officiating career, and has also set the record for officiating the highest number of FIFA World Cup matches.
Abdukhamidullo Rasulov and Jakhongir Saidov will join Irmatov as the two assistant referees (also from Uzbekistan), while the fourth official for the final will be China PR referee Ma Ning.
Paolo Valeri of Italy has been appointed as the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), while Muhammad Taqi bin Jahari (Singapore),and Christopher Beath (Australia) will be present as assistants to him.
An all-star final needs an all-star officiating panel, and this combination of referees is just that.
Showpiece specialists meet first timers
Japan are the competition’s most successful nation, becoming champions four times since breaking through for their first Asian title on home soil in 1992, but they also boast a perfect record in the AFC Asian Cup final, having won in all four of their previous appearances in the decider.
In fact, they have only conceded one goal in the showpiece, in their 3-1 win against China PR in 2004, and three of their four wins have come in regulation time, with Tadanari Lee’s extra-time winner against Australia in 2011 the only exception.
Conversely, the final will be completely new territory for Qatar who had never previously made it beyond the quarter-final stage.
While this is the first senior final at the continental level for Al Annabi, a number of their personnel, including head coach Felix Sanchez and star players such as Almoez Ali, Akram Afif and Tarek Salman, won the AFC U-19 Championship in Myanmar in 2014.
All eyes on Ali, but Osako looms for Japan
There is little doubt that Almoez Ali has been one of the revelations of the competition, scoring eight goals from six matches to equal Ali Daei’s 23-year-old AFC Asian Cup record.
His achievements are all the more notable given that, playing primarily as a winger, he scored just once in his previous 13 appearances for club side Al Sadd.
Barring a staggering turn of events in the final, Ali will be the first Qatari player in history to claim the competition’s top scorer award, having already won the same title at the AFC U-23 Championship in China last year.
Qatar also feature the man with the most assists, with Akram Afif having set up a highly impressive eight goals, and creating a tournament-high 20 chances for his teammates, six more than any other player.
While Ali’s performances have demanded attention, Japan have a potent attacking weapon of their own in Yuya Osako, who returned from injury to score two crucial goals in his side’s 3-0 semi-final win over Islamic Republic of Iran.
Despite Ali being four goals clear at the top of the scoring charts, Osako, who has made just three appearances at UAE 2019, has been more efficient, scoring a goal every 53.5 minutes of game time, compared to Ali’s rate of one every 66 minutes.
Moriyasu chasing dual firsts
Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu was part of the playing squad when his country first became Asian champions in his home city of Hiroshima back in 1992, and will become the first man in history to win the title as a player and head coach if his side prevail in the final
Perhaps surprisingly, Moriyasu will also become the first Japanese head coach to win the AFC Asian Cup, with the nation’s previous successes coming under head coaches from the Netherlands, France, Brazil and Italy.
Head to head? Neck and neck
Four previous meetings in the AFC Asian Cup have produced one win for reach team, with the other two matches ending in stalemates.
Qatar won the first Finals encounter between the sides, defeating Japan 3-0 in the Samurai Blue’s first appearance in 1988, before a 1-1 draw in Lebanon in 2000, a result which was repeated in Hanoi seven years later.
Japan won the most recent meeting between the sides, knocking Qatar out of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup they hosted with a 3-2 quarter-final win
Every man available
With outstanding disciplinary records wiped at the end of the quarter-finals, and no Japanese or Iraqi players picking up red cards in the semi-finals, all players are eligible to appear in the final.
For Qatar, this will mean the return of quarter-final hero Abdelaziz Hatim and impressive 21-year-old Bassam Al Rawi.
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