LUSAIL, Qatar — LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Akram Afif scored a hat trick of penalties to secure back-to-back Asian Cup titles for Qatar in a 3-1 win against Jordan on Saturday.
The forward struck in the first half of the final and then twice after the break at Lusail Stadium to finish as the tournament’s leading scorer with eight goals.
Yazan Al Naimat had leveled the game in the second half, but Qatar was awarded two penalties on video review and Afif showed no nerves to convert on both occasions.
Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe had lit up this spectacular stadium at the World Cup, and now it was Afif’s turn, with his goals in front of more than 86,000 fans crowning his outstanding tournament.
Qatar became the first back-to-back winner since Japan in 2000 and 2004. It is the fifth nation to successfully defend the title, though Iran won it three times in a row from 1968 to 1976.
But despite being defending champion, this represented an unexpected triumph for a nation that endured a miserable World Cup on home soil in 2022 when exiting the tournament after three straight defeats in the group stage.
Spanish coach Márquez López had only been hired in December and Qatar was beaten 2-1 by Jordan in a friendly in January.
Preparations were hardly ideal, but it didn’t take long for Qatar to show its credentials as potential champions again after reeling off a 100% winning record in the group stages, with standout performances from Afif.
Afif won and converted a penalty in the 22nd minute Saturday, but Jordan — playing in its first Asian Cup final — was back on level terms when Al Naimat rifled home from inside the box in the 67th.
At that point, Jordan had been on top.
It was behind again, however, when Ismaeel Mohammad was brought down by Mahmoud Al Mardi.
It took a video review before referee Ma Ning pointed to the spot — but when he did, again Afif delivered by firing into the left hand corner.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time Afif completed his hat trick after he was fouled by Jordan goalkeeper Yazeed Abulaila.
Again it took a video review to award the spot kick. Again Afif converted.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer