ABU DHABI • Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said his team would not be distracted from the "most important match in the country's football history" by a protest over the eligibility of two of their best players at the Asian Cup.
The National newspaper reported yesterday on the eve of the Qatar-Japan final that the host, the United Arab Emirates, had formally questioned the eligibility of Sudan-born striker Almoez Ali and Iraqi-born defender Bassam Al-Rawi.
World football governing body Fifa mandates that a player switching national teams must either qualify through their parents or grandparents or must reside in a country for five years after their 18th birthday.
It is alleged that the 22-year-old Ali and 21-year-old Al-Rawi have not met the residency requirements to be eligible. Qatar claimed that they have relatives born in the country which allows them to play, which the UAE disputes.
Ali scored his record-equalling eighth goal of the tournament when Qatar beat the UAE 4-0 in the semi-finals on Tuesday. Al-Rawi was suspended for that match but is expected to return for the final.
The Asian Football Confederation confirmed that it has received a protest from the UAE Football Association regarding two players and that it would be "reviewed in line with the AFC regulations".
Spaniard Sanchez, however, said that his players were focused on preparing for today's match at Zayed Sports City Stadium.
"We are only focused on the game we're going to play tomorrow, any other things not related to football is not in our minds at the moment. I'm not concerned at all," he said. "My players need no more motivation than to play an Asian Cup final."
The protest comes against a background of a political and economic boycott of Qatar which the UAE launched with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in 2017. The four countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, which it denies.
FOCUSED ON FINAL
We are only focused on the game we're going to play tomorrow, any other things not related to football is not in our minds at the moment.
FELIX SANCHEZ, Qatar coach, on his team's mentality as they approach today's Asian Cup final against Japan.
The political rift was manifest in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday when Emirati fans hurled sandals and drinks bottles at Ali and two other players celebrating their goals during the semi-final.
The rift also means that almost no Qatari fans or media have been in the UAE to support and report on their run to a first continental final.
Meanwhile, Japan captain Maya Yoshida called on tournament organisers to deal swiftly with incidents of "stupidity" that risk damaging the reputation of Asian football.
The Asian Cup has seen its share of controversial refereeing decisions, with host UAE twice awarded soft late penalties that left rivals players and coaches fuming.
Japan's semi-final victory over Iran also came close to boiling over, with Yoshida himself needing to be restrained by teammates after reacting furiously to a petulant slap from Sardar Azmoun.
"I think the AFC should control stuff about penalties and suspensions," said the Southampton defender yesterday.
"If (the Cup) is broadcast all over the world, you don't want to see any stupid things, especially after the game. We are representing Asia under the hashtag #bringingasiatogether, so it's important to represent Asia by playing good football and with fair play."
Japan enter the final as favourites to add to their record of four Asian Cup titles, but Qatar coach Sanchez insisted that the 2022 World Cup hosts were confident ahead of their first appearance in the final, after comfortably winning all six of their matches and keeping a record six clean sheets.
"To us, it's no surprise that we are in the final," he said. "I have full trust in the players, they are motivated to make history."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
JAPAN V QATAR
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