By Nick Mulvenney
ABUDHABI (Reuters) – Qatar’s Ali Afif eschewed the usual pre-match conventions ahead of a quarter-final clash against South Korea on Thursday, boldly declaring his side would be taking the Asian Cup back to Doha to celebrate with their fans.
A deep political rift between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, has resulted in only a handful of fans making the short trip across the Gulf of Arabia to support the 2022 World Cup hosts.
Qatar have nevertheless shown impressive form in reaching the quarter-finals, winning four matches without conceding a goal and knocking out 2007 champions Iraq in the last 16.
Afif said getting past pre-tournament favourites South Korea and into the semi-finals of the continental championship for the first time on Friday should not be the extent of their ambition.
“We know they are supporting us even they are not here,” the experienced midfielder said of the absent fans.
“We got messages from Doha that they are supporting us and will try to repay them with our unstinting efforts. The whole squad will do so and we will celebrate together and go back to Doha with the Cup for them.”
Afif has only played 10 minutes as a substitute at the tournament so far with Felix Sanchez preferring younger players he has brought through from his days as coach of Qatar’s age group teams.
The Spaniard was a little more respectful of the usual pre-match protocols, paying tribute to South Korea as a “tough” team who play football “in the right way”.
“The players are very confident,” he added. “But at the same time we know it’s going to be very tough and have to be ready to produce a good performance.”
Paulo Bento is hoping to deliver a third Asian Cup to South Korea and the Portuguese coach was cautious about the challenge presented by the Qataris, particularly their speed in the transition from defence to attack.
He was not concerned about having only a three day break after needing extra time to get past Bahrain in the last 16, though, nor about forward Son Heung-min not having found the net in two matches.
“It’s not mandatory that Son scores goals for the national team,” he said.
“What is most important is that we’ve scored in every game in this competition. I don’t care who scores.”
Bento was delighted that the video assistant referee (VAR) system was being introduced from the quarter-final stage but said it should have been utilized from the start of the tournament.
The winners of Friday’s match will play holders Australia or hosts the United Arab Emirates in the semi-finals in Al Ain.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Christian Radnedge)