Almoez Ali fired Qatar into the Asian Cup final with a 3-2 win over Iran on Wednesday.
The forward struck the decisive goal in the 82nd minute at Al Thumama Stadium to settle a thrilling semifinal.
Host and defending champion Qatar will play Jordan in Saturday’s final at Lusail Stadium, where Lionel Messi lifted the World Cup for Argentina in 2022.
Ali was the leading scorer when Qatar won the Asian Cup in 2019 but has been overshadowed by strike-partner Akram Afif this time around.
Ali came up with a crucial finish to preserve his country’s hopes for back-to-back titles after a game that saw both teams give up winning positions.
Sardar Azmoun fired Iran into the lead with an overhead kick in the fourth minute. Qatar responded with a deflected equalizer from Jassem Gaber in the 17th and Afif scored his fifth goal of the tournament with a brilliant individual effort in the 43rd — cutting into the box and lashing a shot beyond Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
Iran leveled the game again six minutes into the second half from the penalty spot as Alireza Jahanbakhsh converted after a handball from Ahmed Fathy.
But Ali, who scored nine goals in the 2019 tournament, grabbed his second of this campaign when he fired low from inside the box late on.
Iran was reduced to 10 men when Shoja Khalilzadeh was sent off for a foul on Afif, but Jahanbakhsh still came close to forcing extra time by hitting the post in the 14th minute of stoppage time.
Qatar had been eliminated from its own World Cup at the earliest possible stage in 2022, exiting the tournament without a win after three group games.
If the pressure of hosting was too much to handle back then, it has been a different story at the Asian Cup. Qatar’s players have shown no sign of being inhibited by the expectations placed upon them as defending champions. Iran posed their biggest test yet.
The semifinal got off to the worst possible start for the host as Pedro Miguel failed to clear a long throw from Jahanbakhsh and Azmoun pounced with an acrobatic effort into the far corner.
The Iranian fans erupted in celebration with the sound of drums and trumpets filling the stadium.
Qatar had already come from behind against the Palestinian team in the round of 16 and responded impressively again.
Gaber leveled the game through fortuitous circumstances when his shot from the edge of the box looped into the corner after taking a big deflection off Saeed Ezatolahi.
Afif was denied by Beiranvand when he burst into the box and then he stabbed a rebound wide with the keeper on the floor.
But there was no stopping him when he cut into the area shortly before halftime. Stepping inside Ramin Rezaeian, he unleashed a powerful shot into the far corner before Ezatolahi could get a challenge in.
Iran came close to leveling before the break, but Hossein Kanani’s effort was blocked on the line by Lucas Mendes amid appeals for a penalty.
Iran did get a spot kick just after the break as Ezatolahi’s shot hit the hand of Fathy in the box and referee Ahmad Alali awarded a penalty after a VAR review.
Iran went on to dominate the chances in the second half with Qatar forced into some desperate last ditch defending until Almoez turned the ball home after inadvertently getting in the way of substitute Abdulaziz Hatem’s effort from outside the area.
There was still time for more drama as Khalilzadeh was sent off and Jahanbakhsh fired against the post.
Qatar keeper Meshaal Barsham also had to produce a last-gasp save to deny Reza Asadi before the final whistle blew.