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Wednesday, 07 February 2024 20:26

Ali the hero as holders Qatar reach Asian Cup final.

By Emily Salley.

Almoez Ali's late strike helped Qatar reach the final of the Asian Cup and continue their title defence with victory over Iran.

Hosts Qatar led after goals from Jassem Gaber and Akram Afif cancelled out Sardar Azmoun's superb overhead opener.

A controversial penalty decision helped level the scores, but Ali's 82nd-minute strike and Shoja Khalilzadeh's late red card were fatal to Iran's final hopes.

Qatar will play underdogs Jordan in Saturday's final at Lusail Stadium.

Jordan stunned two-time winners South Korea on Tuesday to reach their first Asian Cup final.

Qatar are bidding to become the first team since Japan in 2000 and 2004 to win back-to-back Asian Cup titles.

Iran's semi-final got off to the perfect start when Azmoun leapt acrobatically to fire home a sensational overhead kick after Qatar failed to clear a long throw into their box.

Al Thumama Stadium erupted 13 minutes later, however, as Gaber's strike took a huge deflection off Saeid Ezatolahi and looped over goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.

The equaliser caused outcry from the Iranian bench, who thought Mehdi Taremi had been fouled in the opposite box seconds earlier, and Mehdi Torabi was booked for demanding a penalty from the touchline.

Having wasted a simple opportunity earlier in the opening half, Afif redeemed himself when he cut through Iran's defence before netting his fifth goal of the tournament to take him within one of Iraq's Aymen Hussein - the Golden Boot leader.

Iran were handed a lifeline early in the second half when the video assistant referee intervened to recommend a review of a penalty decision.

Despite initially waving away appeals of a handball and Ahmed Fathy keeping his arms close to his chest, the referee changed his decision and Alireza Jahanbakhsh calmly slotted the spot-kick straight down the middle.

Goalline clearances at both ends of the pitch kept the tense encounter level until Ali picked out the bottom corner with less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining.

Iran's hopes of reaching their first final since 1976 went from bad to worse when Shoja Khalilzadeh's yellow card for wiping out Afif was upgraded to a red after a VAR intervention.

After holding off a series of promising last-gasp attacks, the Qatar players dropped to their knees in celebration when the referee blew the full-time whistle following more than 16 minutes of stoppage time.