ABU DHABI, UAE , Unbeaten Qatar are likely to have an edge going into their last 16 clash on Tuesday against Iraq, the 2007 champions at the AFC Asian Cup.
Striker Almoez Ali has struck seven times in just three matches giving Qatar their three back-to-back wins against Lebanon, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Iraq, on the other hand, won two matches and managed a draw against Islamic Republic of Iran in their first three matches of the tournament.
Coached by Felix Sanchez, Qatar have impressed with their goal-scoring form in the three matches and rarely looked in trouble against their opponents. Ali scored in all the matches including four goals against North Korea and a brace against arch-rivals Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
The impressive win against Saudi Arabia convinced popular coach Jose Mourinho to lavish praise on the young Qatari side. Qatar's key assets in the last 16 clash will be skipper Hassan Al Haydos and 2018 Asian Player of the Year Abdulkarim Hassan who was declared by Mourinho as 'special talent'.
On a personal account, Qatar hotshot Ali is on the verge of writing himself into the competition's history books. Ali, who claimed the top scorer award at the AFC U23 Championship last year in January, has been in sensational form throughout the tournament with goals and amazing speed.
With at least one more game still to come, the 22-year-old Al Duhail SC forward's impressive tally has seen him move to within one strike of the record haul by a player at Asia's premier event, one which was set by Islamic Republic of Iran legend Ali Daei when he scored eight at the 1996 edition, also in the United Arab Emirates.
The feared striker is already level with Iran's Behtash Fariba and the Korea Republic ace Choi Soon-ho who bagged seven goals apiece during the AFC Asian Cup in 1980. Iraq, coached by Srecko Katanec, will be tough opponents, according to Qatar coach Sanchez.
Our aim is to win and to do that we have to play our best because our opponents are strong," Sanchez said on Monday as his players prepared for the high-octane clash on Tuesday.
Sanchez has groomed most of the Qatari players, following their rise from the juniors in the last five years.
With the 2022 FIFA World Cup less than four years away, Qatar have launched their first serious assignment on a positive note winning successive matches at the AFC Asian Cup. Tuesday's clash will be another tough test in Qatar's journey to preparing a strong squad for the home World Cup.
Source: Qatar Olympic Committee