Almoez Ali grabbed a hat-trick as Qatar started their build-up to the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 Asian Cup in emphatic fashion, routing minnows Afghanistan 6-0 in a joint qualifying Group E clash in Doha on Thursday.
Qatar’s group also includes India, Bangladesh and Oman, with the table toppers along with the seven other group winners and four best runners-up advancing to the Asian Cup in China and the final round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
However, if the 2022 hosts win their group, the seven other group winners and five best second-placed sides will advance to the final round of qualifying for the World Cup.
Qatar’s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez had made it clear that he would be fielding his strongest possible line-up despite Afghanistan’s lowly status.
He said that being the Asian Cup champions and World Cup hosts a strong start was important to send out a message.
Consequently, the gulf between the Asian Cup champions and Afghanistan was more than evident on Thursday at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium where the hosts stamped their authority early in the match with star forward Almoez Ali finding the target twice early to put Qatar on course to victory.
Ali, the top scorer in the Asian Cup this year where Qatar beat Japan to win the title, first struck with a powerful header in the fourth minute and then applied the finishing touch to a fine string of passes in the 11th, Akram Afif being the provider.
Captain Hassan al-Haydos then made it 3-0 in the 13th minute off an Afif pass and Abdelkarim Hassan scored from a solo effort in the 34th minute to ensure Qatar took a whopping 4-0 advantage into the second half.
There was no respite for the Afghan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi after resumption as Ali grabbed his third goal of the evening in the 51st minute and Boualem Khoukhi tapped in from close in the 67th which proved the last goal of the match as the hosts eased up later.
Also in Group E, Gulf Cup champions Oman avoided a shock defeat when they scored twice late in the match to edge past India 2-1 in the north-eastern Indian city of Guwahati.
India captain Sunil Chhetri, who has scored more goals for his country than Lionel Messi has for Argentina and is only behind Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo among still active players, took his personal tally in international matches to 73 with a 24th minute strike at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.
However, India ran out of steam in the latter stages of the matches as Oman equalised through Rabia Alwai al-Mandhar in the 82nd minute, and the 24-year-old found the mark again in the 90th to give his team a last-gasp victory.
Elsewhere, Syria thrashed Philippines 5-2, North Korea beat Lebanon 2-0, Palestine shocked Uzbekistan 2-0, Bahrain drew Iraq 1-1, Malaysia edged out Indonesia 3-2, Turkmenistan prevailed over Sri Lanka 2-0 and Vietnam held Thailand 0-0.